I t isn’t easy to depict war on stage. Neither is it a cakewalk to convey the emotional intensity of an issue that is historically anchored in world history. However, Meera Sitaraman’s script has the potential to distil the emotional core of a seemingly-alien subject and make it relatable. And, that is an indication that a play has worked through the audience’s hearts and minds.
The Cut , which was also shortlisted for The Hindu Playwright Award 2016, premièred last Friday in the city. Designed and directed by V. Balakrishnan, the play talks about “comfort women”, who were used for sexual services during World War II for the troops. A woman, a man and a girl (the writer has deliberately left the characters unnamed) are the three main characters. The older woman, who herself was a comfort woman, is now with the war doctor who has made her his “exclusive”. She finds emotional respite in him.
However, she also hides a secret from him; a young girl who she saved from the army troops. In her, she can see her own past, and she does not want the girl to go through the same trauma as she did.
Through the conversations between the two, we feel the horror of war. While the doctor listens to the woman’s tales with the clinical objectiveness of reading a medical report, the emotional ramifications can be felt in the responses of the girl hiding in the room.
When the doctor goes to war, she pleads with the woman to let her escape. The fear in her eyes and the fright in her voice say it all.
Things come to a head when the doctor has to leave and the woman is terrified of life in his absence. The girl, on the other hand, is in danger of being discovered and things spiral into an explosive finish.
Janani Narasimhan, who played the woman, brought out the stifled hysteria beautifully. The love between the man and the woman was captured very delicately by Meera. It is neither too affectionate nor lustful; it is as if two tired souls find an emotional crutch in each other. Balakrishnan was brilliant as the embittered doctor, caught between his conscience and duties. Meera struck a fine balance between drama and facts. The research that has gone into the play comes through when the horror stories of comfort women slowly unravel through the conversations between the woman and the doctor.
She recounts the brutalities of rape and violence in the “virgin” and “shared” rooms, with a certain casualness, that makes the audience shudder.
There is a collective gasp in the audience when she recounts how pregnant women, who were of “no use” to the army men, had their eyes gouged out before they returned home. Or when she says how before pills were invented, they would perform “the cut” in the women’s bodies so that they never got pregnant. It is subtle, yet cuts through your heart.