A revolution called Nirbhaya

International Production

Any news surrounding ‘Nirbhaya’ arouses great interest and touches hearts across the world. So if a theatrical piece is devised on the incident i.e. the horrific gang-rape of the 23-year old paramedical student, then it is bound to evoke a strong reaction from people.

The play titled Nirbhaya had a similar effect when it premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.

When staged recently in Delhi --- the original location of the December 16 incident, the spectacle outside FICCI auditorium was quite nightmarish with a long winding queue, comprising more women than men, jostling for space, leaving one with the question ‘Is the play really worth the wait?

Written and directed by South African playwright Yael Farber, the play began with the plaintive notes of a young girl who portrays the character of Nirbhaya (Japjit Kaur). She sings the famed song Chalte Chalte... from the 1972 film Pakeezah but tones down her voice in keeping with the context, thus providing a new meaning to the lyrics. What follows is a depiction of events that occurred post the
gang-rape with the spotlight firmly on the insensitive attitude of the metropolitan which later transforms into a revolution against the ‘violence’ inflicted on Nirbhaya (the pseudonym that the Press gave to the gang-rape victim).

In between this transition, Yael weaves the personal experiences of individuals (actors who perform in the play) to show that this ‘violence’
is universal.

Maintaining their real identities, Poorna Jagannathan, Priyanka Bose, Sapna Bhavnani and Sneha Jawale tell their shocking tales with the support of the lone male actor Ankur Vikal - who somewhere endeavours to voice the concern of those men who feel for the cause.

Most of the personal revelations of actors are centered around the Indian sub-continent. While Poorna transforms herself as a nine-year old girl who was sexually abused in Pakistan, Priyanka tells a similar tale that occurred in India. Sneha's story of a Maharashtrian ‘dowry bride’ who was set on fire and killed by her in-laws is also based in India. But Sapna's projection of herself as a boisterous teenager in Mumbai who is referred to as a ‘whore’, gets a twist when she is gang-raped by four boys in Chicago on a Christmas Eve for no reason!

Watching these personal and traumatic moments live in a performance does jolt you and more so if one happens to be a woman. However, it is the inhuman treatment meted out to Nirbhaya which compels the other women to ‘Break their Silence’.
The director puts in place the essential elements – water tubs, a dummy booth to double up as a theatre hall and bus stop and an intelligently placed two rows of chairs with a narrow aisle to represent the inadequate space available in Delhi buses. There is often a reference to women being ‘groped in buses’ and also  to the ‘mess of wires’ in Chandni Chowk, which in a way hurts a Delhiite's heart to the insult and notoriety that is heaped on the City.     
       
Yael uses the device of water (which was predictable), to cleanse the lifeless form of Nirbhaya and the smoke effect adds to the drama on the stage. The light is kept dim throughout and the stage appears dark except for when Nirbhaya enters the stage and appears as a ‘Ray of Hope’. No doubt it is not just a play but also a campaign to make
people (not just women) aware  and to speak up and
be fearless.

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