Ira Dubey, in a solo performance, 9 Parts of Desire, reveals the stories of Iraqi women who have lived in the shadow of war

Stories of women who have lived under the shadow of war and have been witness to the brutality of a ruthless regime have been captured in a searing way by Heather Roffa in her play, 9 Parts of Desire. The lives of these remarkable women maybe far removed from our own, but the stories you will see being performed by Ira Dubey will touch you deeply. The play spans the decades between the first and second Gulf Wars, describing the lives of nine Iraqi women — either of real women, or inspired by the lives of real women.

Ira has performed close to 15 shows of 9 Parts of Desire in Mumbai and other Indian cities. This month, she will perform seven shows of the play in Bangalore. Ira stumbled on the play while looking for a short piece to perform at the Prithvi Carnival, recently. She was so moved by the script that she decided to perform it solo as a full-length production.

Speaking about 9 Parts of Desire, directed by her mother and stage actor Lillete Dubey, Ira says: “It is a feminine, not political point of view on war. The play is special because it is about nine Muslim women who have lived in times of conflict.”

Ira was in constant touch with Heather to understand the core of the play, whose journey to writing the play occurred over 12 years. An American whose father was born in Iraq, Heather delved deep into the lives of Iraqi women of different backgrounds, to understand them at a more profound level. She went on to perform the play to international acclaim across the world.

The play, Ira says, does not hammer down only one point of view. “It has multiple points of view portrayed in a most humane way,” she says. Ira describes the intensive creative process of internalising the characters and understanding the backdrop against which the play is set. “I sat with the text and worked with it a lot. My mother and I worked for 10 to 12 days on the script. We then had to go deeper to understand Iraq, which is one of the oldest civilizations in the world; it has a huge amount of history to it.”

Getting the accent right was the biggest part of the performance, says Ira. “I watched the documentaries by the American journalist Hugh Sykes who has done a retrospective on the ten years since Saddam Hussein was captured.” She listened to the accents of everyday people living in Iraq. “I seeped myself in the culture as much as I could. I have moved from one character to another purely by voice and through body language.”

A solo act, even though gratifying, has been a challenge for Ira. “Performing for 75 minutes is mentally and physically exhausting.” The character Ira identified with the most was Layla, the artist.

“She is based on an actual character, an artist who was favoured by Saddam Hussein’s regime and had painted portraits of Saddam. Being an artist myself, I could relate to her. She is the pivot of the play. She is a very powerful character. There is another woman who tends to a bombed shelter which was bombed by the Americans. Another character is of a little girl who speaks innocently about her father, which gives him away and leads to him being eliminated. The child’s story is chilling and hard-hitting,” says Ira.

The set is among the high points of the production. “It is beautiful. It reflects a war-torn, yet soulful Iraq.”

9 Parts of Desire will be performed today at 8 p.m. and tomorrow at 3 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. at Jagriti Theatre. Tickets are priced at Rs. 250 and are available at bookmyshow.com and at the venue. The play will be performed again at Ranga Shankara from February 4 to February 7 at 7.30 p.m.