Incest, patriarchy rule the plot

Reality Bytes

At a time when International directors are focusing on issues that strangle Indian society (such as the Nirbhaya case), it is interesting to see Indian directors stage plays that talk of taboos in the western setup.

Sohaila Kapur’s Tattoo (written by contemporary German playwright Dea Loher) is one of these, which talks about a patriarchal, dysfunctional house, where the father – Mr Wolf – rules with an iron fist and the Mother – referred to as ‘Dogface’ Julie – keeps scratching, sees everything but says nothing. The older daughter Anita – is inept at warding off her father’s sexual overtures while the younger daughter Lulu – lets her sister suffer lest she be asked to replace her.

Recently staged at India Habitat Centre, the play by Katyayani Productions enjoyed its share of English theatre audience. Finding it difficult to believe that such treatment could be meted out to the daughter of the house at the hands of the father, many were in a state of shock. But the director feels happy that they at least “accepted the play because when we staged it in May, many people walked out of the auditorium.”          The play, however, appears as if situated more in India than in Germany. Whether it adds a dimension of universality to it, is a question that is better left for audiences to answer. The performances on the other hand were quite constrained which mar the overall effect of the taut story. Be it Mr Wolf (played by Ramesh Thakur) or Paul (Gautam Mehra), both the male characters manage to impress but only in fragments.

The female cast – Julie (Aarti Sharda Nayar), Anita (Jyotsna Sharma) and Lulu (Sonali Sharma) are the ones who hold fort and salvage the narrative from falling apart. Julie’s action of scratching her skin incessantly is suggestive of her knowledge of her husband’s wrong doings in the name of ‘tribal culture’ and not wanting to admit the same or rebuke him.

Anita’s character is brilliantly rendered by portraying her as submissive person who is unable to overcome the trauma even after getting into a wedlock with Paul. Lulu comes across as a brat initially, but her transition into a mature woman isn’t given much space or time in the duration ofthe play.   

Since the play requires a number of scenes, Sohaila intelligently blends them into the narrative by the use of a projector. The projected words on the stage define the impending action allowing the viewer to relate to the next sub-plot. Even the demand of various locations is catered to cleverly by allowing Paul to enter from the below the stage, thus making best use of whatever space is available. 

The use of a not-so-German accented English by the actors and the confusing play of lights drops the performance level. The issue, however, lingers on in the mind and does get engraved in the psyche of each one who watches Tattoo.  

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