Theatre

Jameela's story

'Jameela: an Autobiography of a Sex Worker.'   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

It was a book that created a furore in the literary and cultural realm of Kerala when it was published more than six years ago. For, it dealt with the life of a sex worker.

The book soon found its place in the best seller list. But no one ever thought of giving the book ‘Oru Lymgika-thozhilaliyude Atmakatha,' (An Autobiography of a Sex Worker) authored by Nalini Jameela, a stage version till the Hyderabad-based theatre group ‘Loopholes' took it up as their debut venture to be staged at the Seventh National Theatre Festival, which concluded in Kozhikode on April 3.

The play – ‘Jameela: an Autobiography of a Sex Worker' – is, above all, an attempt to dramatise the life of a woman, a sex worker, who was searching for dignity and freedom on her own terms. It unfolded on stage through the narration of Nalini Jameela, the protagonist of the play.

As in the book, the play also starts with Jameela introducing herself to the audience. That introduction – “I am Nalini Jameela, a sex worker… I am neither sad nor ashamed about it…” – was heard throughout the play as a refrain even as the play progressed through different stages of her life. The different periods of her life were enacted by different actors even when the narrator remained on stage, but off centre stage.

Jameela's childhood, marital life, trials and tribulations, life with her clients and her bond with her growing daughter were admirably portrayed.

Tracing her life

It also depicted the development of her character as an organiser and as a documentary film maker. The setting almost remained the same, while the stage was horizontally divided into two. Connecting the halves was a staircase, while props made it resemble a home, and, at the same time, a shady corner of a street. Except for the lack of any arresting dramatic moments and the tiny flaws in conceiving the emotionally complex situations that occur due to the inexperience of the dramatists, the attempt was overwhelmingly good.

The play directed by Gargi Bharadwaj and scripted by Supriya Shukla, both of whom were on stage, depicted the contrasting faces of Jameela in the play. The dialogues were in English and Hindi.

Not many theatre performers might have had the experience of having one of the very characters they were portraying on stage, watching the proceedings as a member of the audience. But the play staged to a packed audience at the Nalanda Auditorium in Kozhikode had this rare honour. Also, it was Nalini Jameela herself who gave the mementos to the actors. She also suggested some small changes to be made in the play when they staged it next time.

As Supriya Shukla said: “It is my first experience when a character comes to suggest changes in the script.”

Later speaking to the Friday Review Nalini Jameela said. “It moved me beyond words.”

Except for the “problem” in understanding the dialogues as they were in English and Hindi and the small change made to a situation in the book while adapting it to the stage, the play, she said, was brilliant. And for the audience? The intensity of the applause said it all.


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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 3:25:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/Jameelas-story/article14674074.ece

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