Saturday, December 14, 2013

Play Review: "Between the Lines" by Nandita Das

About the play:
Language: Hinglish
Directed by: Nandita Das
Written by: Nandita Das and Divya Jagdale
Maya: Nandita Das
Shekhar: Subodh Maskara
Kavita: Nandita Das
Mukesh: Subodh Maskara

Due to busy few weekends, I had not been able to see a play. When I was casually checking the play listings for the weekend, I saw “Between the lines” Written, Directed and Acted by Nandita Das, I had to see it. Venue was FICCI Auditorium - venue I like. Thanks to some ‘auspicious day’ there were like a million weddings in Delhi on that day and it took me about 75 mins instead of usual 40-45 mins and hence I missed the first 5 mins of the play but atleast I got the tickets.

“Between the lines” primarily is a play in form of conversations between an urban, well-educated, upper middle class couple. It talks about the issue of gender inequality – the obvious and the subtle forms of it. Shekhar (played by Subodh Maskara – Nandita Das’ husband) is a successful and famous lawyer and Maya (Nandita Das), a college gold medalist who is getting back to her professional life after a 14 year gap. They have recently sent their son to boarding school, giving her a chance to pursue her career. The first case she takes up is defense counsel for Kavita, a woman who has shot her husband - who survives. Coincidentally, Mukesh accepts the case representing the husband as a favor to an influential person who has helped him in the past. Now starts the war of the genders. Maya develops compassion for Kavita, the accused who has actually shot her husband. The reasons for the shooting unfold but looking at Kavita and her situation, Maya starts to question her own identity as an independent woman and the subtle inequalities between a man and woman start to bother her. This becomes a reason for debate between her and her husband. These debates are thought provoking without being loud or aggressive. While at one end they talk about couples like Mukesh and Kavita where there is domestic violence – a clear case of women rights and inequality at the other end are Mukesh and Maya – an urban well educated couple where the husband fell in love with his wife because of her intellect and strong personality and supports her decision to start working. Nandita Das fits the strong personality of Maya perfectly and for few scenes plays the role of Kavita – the timid and scared lady for whom domestic violence is part and parcel of a marriage. Talking to the audience after the play, Nandita said that half of the play came from their own conversations at home. It is easy to talk about inequality when it is very evident – cases of domestic violence, women not being allowed access to education or opportunity to work. But the society which has been patriarchal for several centuries has infused subtle sexist behavior in both men and women. Maya questions her own habit of selecting the smaller piece of cake between her and husband. “Why are you blaming me for taking the bigger piece if you were to select the smaller piece anyways?”. But why does she always pick the smaller piece? These are the kind of questions this play raises.

This play works well primarily because of the chemistry between the two actors. It is like they have placed seats around their real life living room and charging you to watch them debate. There are productions which take up serious social evils related to child abuse, domestic violence, dowry deaths and others. After seeing those, you become a little sad. But you feel helpless that you are not able to do anything about it. Best we can think of is go for a candle march or donate to an NGO. “Between the lines” addresses an issue which is not as evil as those but people (readers of this blog) would be able to relate to personally and can actually take steps to change (if they want to). Is a liberal and modern man as modern as he thinks he is? To know the answer go and catch this play when it’s up next in your city. 

In conclusion, “Between the lines” is a well written, beautifully performed engaging debate without being overbearing or loud. Must watch for Nandita Das fans. 

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