Thursday, June 2, 2005

It happens here too'


FIFTY-FIVE minutes. 14 roles. One person. That's "Bitter Chocolate". Lushin Dubey's solo show, scripted & directed by Arvind Gaur, detailing child sexual abuse attempts "to stir, to provoke, to move, to shake up people" — and that's exactly what she did. Based on Pinki Virani's bestseller, Bitter Chocolate, a book dealing with child sexual abuse (CSA) in India, Lushin Dubey's stage version is as unsettling as the book.

Rouse the audience

"The idea of staging such a play is to wake you up to reality; if it has moved you, there has been an effect," says Dubey. "We Indians are lazy. If the litter is in the neighbour's backyard or out in the street, we don't want to do anything about it. It's the same with CSA." Over the next few months, Dubey and director Arvind Gaur will travel to different cities performing "Bitter Chocolate", sparking off debate and creating awareness. They have also been invited to perform at the UN in March 2005. "CSA is a universal topic," says director Gaur. "It is a difficult subject, but it is the reality — and many people are not willing to accept that it exists."

Various roles

"Bitter Chocolate" is a play that doesn't allow the audience to stay passive. Dubey switches characters, psyches and personalities in minutes to play various roles — a callous lawyer almost inquisitor-like with the 12-year-old girl who has been sexually abused by her father and his bureaucrat friends. "He gave you something to drink? What colour was it? Brown? Yesterday you said white. LIAR! Sorry, Your Honour... Which finger was it? This one, or this one... He showed you dirty films? Tell me the names ... "

Then she's at a public hearing, decrying the woman who dared to take her husband to task for sexually abusing their daughters. She's t Arun, who is regularly sodomised by his uncle. He washes his hands repeatedly till the skin starts peeling off. His parents, his psychiatrist, his family, no one believes he's being abused.

Thirty seconds later Dubey is a policeman who convinces a father not to file an FIR against the man who has raped his daughter, for making a case of it would mean ruining the little girl's reputation and besides, "FIR mein kuch hame likhne layak hona". A psychologist, a young girl being abused by her brother, a disbelieving mother, an angry grandfather, a godman...

"The graph of emotion is very erratic in this play — it jumps from the controlled fear of a little girl who has been abused to the perversion of a paedophile. I can't lose my concentration for a single moment," says Dubey, who holds an MS in Special Education and has been involved in teaching mentally challenged children in the U.S. and in India. "I keep thinking of the boy Arun. I met Pinki (Virani) and she told me that he still does not have skin on his hands. You have to hold on to something to play the roles convincingly."

Good response

Arvind Gaur cuts in saying, " There is a fine line between acting and characterisation. Such plays have a purpose; they generate debate. The multimedia screens I use in the play help the audience understand the subconscious of the person."

Though neither Gaur nor Dubey met any of the victims or offenders in Virani's book, they say they drew from experiences of family and friends. "I spoke extensively with Pinki. It's very hard to talk about it, but there have been instances of CSA in my family. Also when I worked with mentally challenged children, there was one child who had been abused... " Gaur picks up as she trails off, "I have some friends who have gone through this. I drew from their experiences, but it is very painful, very painful to have to script and direct such a play."

Dubey says the response to the play has been good, with people coming up to ask questions at the end of it. "Many people ask `why are you portraying the negativity of India. NGOs are working on CSA. Tell us what work is being done.' But if I tell you the positives about CSA, you will think it's being handled well, so you don't have to worry."

Arvind Gaur adds, "In fact, after the play (in Chennai) a young man, in his late twenties, who works for a software company and has lived abroad, came to me and insisted that CSA does not exist. I told him that every episode was based on a real life incident. He didn't seem entirely convinced, but at least the next time he reads or hears something, he won't dismiss it as entirely impossible. This is the kind of play that does not stay in the hall — it goes home with the audience. And that is the role theatre, film and documentaries play — to generate debate and make people think," says Gaur.

"My platform is the manch, the stage. We need to shout from the rooftops," says Dubey.

"This is not an urban problem or a rural problem. We need to touch the unconverted."

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