Indraprastha College’s interpretation of Manto’s “Khol Do” succeeded in shocking the audience
The outrage and fear that filled Delhi after the gang rape last December reflected in Abhivyakti’s performance of “Sakina — Rehearsing Manto in times of gang rapes”, last week. Directed by Atelier’s Kuljeet Singh, the play used stage and screen to dramatise Saadat Hassan Manto’s story “Khol Do”.
In fact, the script devised by Deepalee Shriya Dubey and Payal Kalra, members of Indraprastha College’s troupe Abhivykati, used the story’s central character Sakina as a vehicle to express the helplessness and angst over everyday incidents of sexual harassment and violence.
Performed at the college’s auditorium last week, the play witnessed a packed hall for both its shows. It was roughly an ensemble cast with characters getting approximately equal performance time. Also, the director designed the play so as not to focus on an individual character, much like gang rape victim Sakina, who doesn’t have a line in Manto’s story. “Khol do” itself was only present in a half the play, the other half being physical and abstract performances depicting the mindscape of rape and riot.
The play featured animation — a time-line of a girl’s life and the saga of protests that followed the bus gang rape — by dramatist Sudhir Rana projected on a screen at the back. It also featured footage of Partition and a remix tape of a TV interview of West Bengal MP Abhijeet Mukherjee, who made controversial remarks on the India Gate protests.
There’s a lot to write home about a presentation this diverse. For one, the experimental and almost disco-like light design by Atul Mishra worked well in the play. A large part of the production was to shock and awe. The debate is open on whether acting out rape is objectification and, whether this serves the troupe’s goal of progressive protest through its theatre. But yes, it did shock and awe and made people pause to think.
The acting wasn’t bad. Ariba Zama, who plays Sakina’s father Sirajuddin, and Aruja who plays a lecherous Razakar vigilante, were especially good. A memorable scene was the parallel Sakina act in the hospital. There are two Sakinas on stage, one on the floor, and one facing the audience. The dialogue and the background track rapidly builds up the tension.
By the time the doctor asks Sirajuddin to open the window and the two Sakinas — one subconscious, the other crying — pull open her pyjama string, most of the audience were cringing in their seats. The play often went overboard in its portrayal of pain, with screeching and struggle — a very direct and linear approach to exploring the burning issue of rape. But to make the audience cringe, that’s an achievement in my book.