Published on 10 January, 2014 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line
Two debut plays in the Capital set the stage for hard-hitting reality and provoke the audience towards debate or, at the very least, introspection
On one stage, three women recited three sagas of pain, suffering and survival, while on another, two men shed their inhibitions to fall in love. Had American playwright Arthur Miller watched either or both the plays that debuted in Delhi recently, he would have perhaps reiterated his own words — “The theatre is so endlessly fascinating because it’s so accidental. It’s so much like life.”
White Noise Productions, in association with CurtainCall Productions and Events, introduced the Capital to She — a compilation of three monologues about the hard-hitting realities faced by women today. Directed by Pallav Chander, the play touches upon familiar incidents from the recent past that have been played out by the media in an endless loop but for which justice or closure remain elusive. In the case of the brutal gang-rape in Delhi on December 16, 2012, those convicted have been sentenced to death but have not been hanged. The accused cab driver in the Uber rape case has been discovered to have committed rapes earlier; he remains in judicial custody. Then there’s the controversial decision of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to close the Badaun case by ruling out murder and rape, and dismissing it as “suicide”; the image of the two teenaged cousins hanging dead from a tree in Uttar Pradesh remains seared in our collective consciousness.
The playwright, 19-year-old Debontika Das, says of her debut work, “Both Pallav and I felt it was time for a strong message through a new medium, because people have become numb to the topic by watching the same stories on television over and over again. The stage is the perfect platform for communicating any message, because the audience can see and experience it live.”
Each monologue is inspired by a true incident. In the first, a young, independent woman describes what her life is like after being gang-raped by five men on a bus — that even three years after the horrific crime, people continue to look at her as a victim and not a survivor. Up next is an account of a victim of domestic violence who is too afraid to speak up; fearful and helpless, she continues to hide her wounds from the world. The last monologue touches on honour killings and describes the dire consequences faced by a young girl who dared to fall in love. “I wanted the audience to connect with the emotions of the characters rather than identify with the stories, because scenarios and stories might be different but emotions are universal. It was about connecting with the anger felt by the rape victim, the helplessness of the victim of domestic abuse, and the shred of hope felt by the honour killing victim in a time of despair,” says Das.
Around the same time as She, there surfaced in Delhi a second play dealing with homosexuality. Writer-director Neel Chaudhuri’s Still and Still Moving recreated an extraordinary love affair between a writer in his 40s and a young college student. “I wanted to write a love story that was characterised by the proximity and distance between two people, and the bridges and fractures in that distance. And when I started writing the story of two men, specific issues relating to their sexuality came up naturally. Also, I was writing it at the time of the High Court Judgement on 377, the quickening of the pulse of queer politics and gay pride,” says Chaudhuri.
Referring to the Delhi High Court judgement regarding Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’, and its reversal later by the Supreme Court, he says, “The verdict (and the law itself) is ludicrous, one of many outdated, bigoted ideas we inherited from the British. However, I think that despite what is an immense setback for LGBT rights in India, the awareness of queer politics has become more acute and more critical in public discussion. We must continue to engage in this debate out in the open — through activism, social and corporate policy, storytelling, music, literature.”
Presented by The Tadpole Repertory, Still and Still Moving is a layered narrative. Partho is twice Adil’s age and the two come from diverse backgrounds — while Partho has lived in Gurgaon for years, Adil is a newcomer discovering the Capital. Besides the difference in age, Adil has lost his father and Partho has a son. “It is primarily the story of difficult love — of the sharing and negotiation of space and circumstance, the gap in generations, and in expectations. These subjects, I believe, are central to our understanding of any emotional relationship — familial, romantic, homosexual or heterosexual. How do the two men negotiate their attraction and love? It’s not really about what happens but why and how it does (or doesn’t). At varying points the relationship wavers — from the paternal, to sexual, to confrontational. It is untidy. Most love stories are too neat,” explains Chaudhuri.
With plays like She and Still and Still Moving, the stage is clearly set for modern dramas that seek to provoke the audience towards debate or, at the very least, introspection.