Three women write letters of protest from prison

The interactive play Firefly Women explores the idea of using theatre as a protest tool

January 30, 2024 03:10 pm | Updated 03:12 pm IST

From Firefly Women staged in Auroville.

From Firefly Women staged in Auroville.

“Will songs be sung even in times of oppression,” asked revolutionary theatre personality Bertold Brecht during the dark times of Nazi Germany. And then, perhaps, foreseeing the future of the world, he himself replied: “Yes, only songs of oppression will be sung.”

The interactive physical play Firefly Women, staged last week at Kripa auditorium, Auroville near Puducherry, was a voice of creative rebellion against State repression and draconian laws under which a group of student activists was arrested during the nationwide anti-NRC movement in India.

The play also attempted to explore the ideas of feminist Utopia against the backdrop of letters written from jail by three women activists — Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Gulfisha Fatima. Incidentally, all three happen to be students associated with ‘Pinjada Tod’, an organisation based out of Delhi that seeks to make hostel and paying guest regulations less restrictive for women students.

Firefly Women is about the memories of cold winter nights at protest sites.

Firefly Women is about the memories of cold winter nights at protest sites.

About the central idea of the play, director Manjari Kaul explained: “We endeavour to make inroads into solidarity, collective dreaming, resilience and hope. We try to explore the voices of an intersectional feminist revolution that focusses on hope and courage to fight the oppressive times we live in today.

“This is how we wove in the heart-wrenching letters written in jail by the three incarcerated inmates with a similar story Sultana’s Dream written by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain,” Manjari added.

Firefly Women hopes to make inroads into solidarity, collective dreaming and resilience.

Firefly Women hopes to make inroads into solidarity, collective dreaming and resilience.

These women wrote about their memories of cold winter nights at protest sites, Shaheen Bagh and other spots, learning from their fellow inmates, the numbing monotony of prison life, keeping hope alive, and the need to keep the work going.

Today, just writing a play on the theme of these sensitive letters, and touring and staging this across the country is a challenging, risky job. And, in Auroville, there were back-to-back performances.

Staged in the black box space with hanging electric bulbs to make it look like a prison cell, it was difficult for the two performers to act and move through the swinging bulbs.

A projector attached to a laptop handled the sound system and visual display on screen. Though the text of the play was socio-politically heavy, performers Priya and Manjari engaged the audience with their gripping movements, animated interactions with spirited songs and poems and displaying puppets and card games.

Sound design by Neel Chaudhuri and dramaturgy by Nisha Abdulla were innovative.

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