The compulsion to create original material from real life situations is an inspiration for many theatre workers. For some, the lack of good scripts dealing with our surrounding reality is the impelling force, for others the need to artistically intervene, raise issues and work towards attitudinal changes, become the motivation. In recent weeks, Delhi has seen two productions that have dealt with crucial themes: sexuality and the curbing of it by Section 377, and the issue of gender disparity in a patriarchal world.
On a beautifully designed set by Oroon Das, Anirudh directs Danish’s eloquent outcry against Sec 377, titled Contempt. Performed in the well-appointed new black box theatre space in the capital, Oddbird Theatre, the play juxtaposes the actual verbatim transcripts of the trial of a case filed by Naz Foundation with the first person testimonies of a gay man, a lesbian and a transgender. The lawyer and the three testimonials seem almost trapped in the four walls of the set. Sitting at a height on either side, the two judges and their comments appear absurd and ludicrous, bordering on a Kafka like nightmare.
The second group that works more on areas of gender than on sexuality works in Bengali and Hindi, presenting its plays in versions suitable for proscenium theatre and for intimate staging to audiences of 30-plus.It was the brutal Nirbhaya gangrape in 2012 that propelled Shapno Ekhon, and its director Shomik Roy on a journey of introspection. What was the validity of the theatre they had performed so far and how could they engage with the issue of gender violence in a more meaningful way?
Their first response used the coming together of Bengali women on a regular basis to collectively read the Katha of Aayan Bibi and then keep a fast, as a focal point. This syncretic legend was metamorphosed into a cry against female foeticide and was titled as Kahani ke Uss Paar. Performed at Studio Safdar in Chittaranjan Park in Delhi, and also in Lucknow and Kolkata, the success of this initial venture encouraged them to build further. But their interest was not only to create a ‘poster play’, but to build an aesthetic theatrical experience.
Their next production called Manohar Kahaniya, a tacit, sardonic nod to the salacious, exploitative magazine of the 70s, was built on the narrative of the Park Street rape case. In a unique first, the rape victim Suzette Jordan had chosen to let her name be used after her brutal rape by five men in a car in Kolkata. For her, it was the rapists who were to be shamed and blamed, not her. The lead character in this play was essayed by three actresses to underline the universality of the theme.
Shomik was drawn to a photo essay by Mark Tuschman on gender-based violence in India to create a new piece, Main Sudha Bol Rahi Hun. Their latest production I Believe builds on texts created by the performers themselves. Four monologues come together in this production that once again forces the audience to confront and re-evaluate the inequality they live and see in their own lives.The writer is a Delhi-based theatre director.