NIRBHAYA was created in response to the violent gang rape and subsequent death of a Delhi medical student in December, 2012. "Nirbhaya" was the name given to the victim by the press as she lay fighting for her life in a hospital bed following her assault. It means "fearless."December 16th marks the day when the young girl got onto the bus and was brutally raped.
If the world is a stage and not a film and we but characters in it, then ‘Nirbhaya’ is the story of everyone whose voice has been silent so long. Here five people tell you stories of their lives, stories suppressed so long and in that the play is as much their coming of age, as it is a telling of the story of Nirbhaya, the name given to the girl gang raped in New Delhi in early 2012.
I watched Anurag Kashyap’s film, ‘The day after everyday’ a few days back and then I watched ‘Nirbhaya’. If Kashyap’s film made me angry, ‘Nirbhaya’ made me want to scream, to shout, to go out and tell people why nobody should be silent any more. I wonder if it is the power of theatre, where nothing is hidden where the line is very thin between reality and role play.
The production directed by Yael Farber, a South African playwright is a culmination of the torture, the humiliation and the helplessness of the girl even as she fights for her life. The play is a culmination of her truth and that of the others coming together, urging people, primarily women to speak out, to not remain quiet anymore and fight the malice that is sexual violence.
For those who perform, perhaps it is not only a performance, they cry, they evolve, even as the play does so. And in watching such a play, one stumbles into the dark recess that is your own mind and one is no longer afraid of truths that need to be told. Nirbhaya is successful because it gives you the strength to speak; it makes you react, because it does not play safe.
On behalf of B'Khush, I speak to American actor, Poorna Jaganathan, who is co-producer of the play and acts in it too and ask her about her experiences during the play and how it has opened up a whole gamut of reactions. Her reactions make me feel a part of the process that is ‘Nirbhaya’. Poorna terms the play as ‘evocative’, answering my question about whether the play had been a cathartic experience for most of those who watched it and whether ‘anger’ was the foremost expression here. She thinks that while anger was absolutely one of the emotions that most people felt there were a whole lot of other emotions involved too. But mostly she thought it gave people, a sense of empowerment, more so for women many of whom came forward to tell the cast how the play had changed their lives forever.
Strong reactions have been a part of the play ever since it has been staged. Poorna talks about a college girl who decided to change the course of her studies having watched the play; others have found it to be one of the most transformative occasions of their lives.
While the play has helped many women come out with their own stories, it is the men in the audience whose reactions have been noteworthy. There were many men, says Poorna who cried for the first time in their adult lives, some who came forward to let the cast know that they had no idea about the kind of torture that women had to go through on a day to day basis.
Poorna thinks that the lack of the ‘safety net’ which distinguishes a play from a film often brings about the strongest reactions in people. She adds, ‘On stage we’re telling our own stories’ and it is the power of these stories that the audience feels. In that sense there is less of ‘acting’ and more of a re-telling of what one has felt, directly to an audience without hiding behind a camera.’
The play goes through stories of 5 people who have experienced sexual violence in their own lives. People who have gone through, marital rape, child abuse, gang rape, tell these raw stories in a telling format, and to this end there is no denying their power.
Speaking about herself, Poorna said that when the Nirbhaya incident happened she felt that her silence about her own experiences had in some unknown way perhaps contributed to the formation of a society that takes such incidents for granted making people think that they can get away with it. A society where shaming of the survivor is more a trend versus the shaming of the perpetrator.
Poorna, strongly feels that any person who does not have the basic right of feeling secured in their own country cannot claim citizenship to that country. She compares sexual harassment to a disease with epidemic proportions and adds, ‘had this been a disease, there would have been people doing research on it, finding a way out of it, but because this is related to the victim’s shame not much is done about it.’
Speaking about the director Yael Farber, she adds ‘Yael is persistent about excellence as far as every part of the production is concerned; as a result every time we perform, we had to put in our best.’ Poorna says that the play had evolved every time they performed, so much so that a same audience would often see a different ending sometimes.
And in the end perhaps ‘Nirbhaya’ crosses that line between acting and speaking the truth. It is where we need to reside more perhaps.
NIRBHAYA is now poised to take its message around the world and become a powerful agent for real social change. The NIRBHAYA tour will start early 2014 in the place where it is most relevant, where it all began: India.
To know more about the Nirbhaya campaign, please take a look at their Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/Nirbhayatheplay
To watch the play : http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nirbhaya/nirbhaya-award-winning-human-rights-theatre-india
About the author : About the Author : Maitreyee B Chowdhury is a creative writer and poet. She is author of two books, 'Reflections on My India' and 'Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen: Bengali Cinema's First Couple'.