Nirbhaya comes home

Mohini Chaudhuri | Updated on March 17, 2014 Published on March 17, 2014

Facing the fire A scene from the play Nirbhaya

The acclaimed play will be performed in three cities in India

After opening to glowing reviews and garnering a host of awards in the UK, the play Nirbhaya based on the brutal gang-rape of a 16-year-old New Delhi medical student on December 16, 2012, has finally come home. The three-city tour in India, on till March 20, kicked off in Mumbai. The cast performed at the National Centre for the Performing Arts on Monday. “It means a huge deal to be coming to India. The cast is Indian, the stories are Indian. So it feels like we are coming back to the source,” says play director Yael Farber.

The A-team

The seven-member cast includes actress Poorna Jagannathan who has also produced the play, celebrity hair-stylist Sapna Bhavnani and Sneha Jawale, a Mumbai housewife who was doused with kerosene and set afire by her husband. Ankur Vikal, the only male member of the cast, plays one of Nirbhaya’s attackers. Farber has used ‘testimonial theatre’ for Nirbhaya, a form of narrative where the actors talk about their personal experiences of sexual assault.

She had effectively used this tool in 2001 for her play Amajuba which dealt with apartheid. “It is a powerful and complex medium – a true story being told by a person who has lived those events. It can be a life-changing experience for the audience. The performances need to have courage in the way it is told,” says Farber.

Getting onboard

Before zeroing on the cast, Farber had sent out messages through the social media, asking women to share their personal experiences. “By the time they reached the hall in Delhi to meet me, they had already taken such powerful decisions. I have a particular process in place for procuring testimonials. We just threw ourselves into it. That room ended up becoming a very sacred room through the rehearsals,” she says.

Back to basics

Farber, who is of South-African origin, says she immersed herself in Hindu culture by closely studying the Ramayana. This helped her gauge the role of women in ancient scriptures and compare it to their standing in contemporary society. “Studying the Ramayana was a tremendous process. It is important to know how the table was being laid out for the future,” she explains.

Need for change

Farber believes that while almost every country in the world is guilty of being apathetic towards sexual crimes against women, the problem is clearly more overt in South Africa and India. She hopes that after watching Nirbhaya, more women feel encouraged to speak about the injustice meted out to them.

“I want to make women believe that the violence inflicted on them was not a loss of their honour. They need to know that it is an act of violence and not an act of desire. It is no different from being assaulted, robbed or an attempt to take someone’s life. They need to understand these things at every level,” says Farber.   

Published on March 17, 2014
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