Nirbhaya – Pavilion Theatre – Review by Helen O’Leary
This play is based on an incident that took place in Delhi less than two years ago. A young woman boarded a bus with a male friend and the horrific events that subsequently unfolded shocked the city and made international headlines. The gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey brought the people of Delhi onto the streets in protest. The incident and public reaction encouraged women in India to speak out, share their experiences of violence and ensure that Nirbhaya’s death would not be in vain.
This piece of theatre is part of that outcry. Inspired by and written in the aftermath of the incident, five women tell their true stories. For each performer their experience of abuse and violence is different, the feelings of self-loathing and shame it instilled are common.
The routine of the everyday bus journey is used to represent how accepted and commonplace sexual harassment is in some parts of Delhi. As women make their way from the back to the front exit of the bus they are habitually groped and mauled. Passengers forgo their dignity when they step onto a bus and accept the humiliation as part of the journey. The behaviour is accepted by society in general and the play makes it clear that everyone is complicit. In the performer’s testimonies we hear of mothers ignoring the abuse of their daughters, a mother in law turns a blind eye when her son beats his wife.
The irony is that in Indian culture the female form is given a revered position, to be protected and worshiped, and yet in some homes it is acceptable to beat, disfigure and humiliate a woman.
This is a very physical piece of theatre using song, movement, repetition and understated lighting. The violence is not portrayed in a very graphic way but it is all the more powerful for its understatement. There is no way to soften or fluff up the reality of rape and sexual violence, this play is squirmingly uncomfortable at times. Probably the most disturbing thing is the fact that it simply tells the truth and it’s a truth that is hard to stomach. Although intense and shocking there is a message of hope. The first step to ending the cycle of violence is breaking the code of silence and this play is part of a chorus shouting out the truth.
Nirbhaya runs at the Pavilion Theatre until August 2nd.
From the writer and director Yael Farber.
The performers are Sapna Bhavnani, Priyanka Bose, Poorna Jagannathan, Sneha Jawale, Rukhsar Kabir, Japjit Kaur and Ankur Vikal.