6 August 2008

30 Days in September: Theatre review

An Asmita production I reviewed for Time Out Delhi:

One of Asmita’s many adaptations of Mahesh Dattani plays originally written in English, 30 Days opens up the issue of child sexual abuse in a manner frank enough – in the Indian context – to be startling. 

The play centres around a young woman named Mala whose relationships with men come with a fixed sell-by date: she has trouble keeping any of her affairs going for more than a month (hence the 30 days of the title). In fact, she maintains a calendar where she marks in advance the date on which the affair must come to an end.

In one of the play’s opening scenes, Mala’s latest rejected boyfriend Deepak arrives at her home, hoping to try and understand why she has stopped answering his calls. Mala isn’t at home. Her mother, a nervy, anxious-looking woman with her shoulders perpetually hunched, first refuses to speak to Deepak, but later confesses that she doesn’t know where Mala is – or why she often disappears or deliberately cuts people off. Mala’s story – of having been sexually abused for years by her uncle, her mother’s own brother – unfolds gradually in a mix of first-person narratives and fraught conversations with her mother, alongside a parallel narrative that reveals the effects of that traumatic past on her present.

The difficult role of Mala’s mother Shanta is essayed with effective understatement by Seema Mittal, while Girish Pal and Pushpraj Rawat provide more than competent support as the boyfriend and the oily, abusive uncle. Mala is played by two actresses who are, perhaps, intended to represent two periods in her life. (Or two aspects of the character? It’s unclear.) There’s the teary, distraught, childlike Mala, almost paralysed with grief and the sharp-talking, sassy young woman who conceptualises winning ad campaigns for sanitary napkins and is a compulsive flirt. The first portrayal (Jyoti Verma) is painfully repetitive and starts to drag from the word go – but the second (Amita Walia) manages to provide glimpses of the character’s conflicted inner life and complicated sexuality.

One might want to dispute the play’s too-pat depiction of promiscuity and frigidity as two poles between which a (female) sexual abuse victim is necessarily caught, but it’s no small thing to have the issue dealt with on the Indian stage, especially by a group that’s committed enough to insist on a post-performance discussion with the audience.

Source : Time Out Delhi Vol. 1 Issue 1, April 6-19, 2007

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