Friday, June 28, 2013

A Visible Darkness

Mahesh Dattani's play, '30 Days in September', focuses on the lifelong damage of child sex abuse

By Shevlin Sebastian

Eminent playwright Mahesh Dattani's play, '30 Days in September', at the JT Pac, Kochi, begins with 26-year-old Mala Khatri, (played by Ira Dubey) staring at an empty chair, where, presumably, her counsellor would be sitting. “Today is February 29, 2004," she says. "And my name is Mala Khatri. Why not? Why shouldn't I use my real name? I want people to know. It is he who should be changing his name, not me. It is he who should be hiding. It is he who should be ashamed to show his face anywhere on this planet. I know I can only make it happen if I use my real name.”

The tone is set. This is a play about child sex abuse and the terrible lifelong damage it inflicts on those who are victims.

Thereafter, a single spotlight is fixed on a small doll placed on a chair. It has a black cap, blonde hair, a black dress and tiny shoes. And a voiceover, in Mala's tone, says, “I know it is my fault. It must have been. I must have asked for it. Maybe, I was born that way. Maybe this is what I am meant for. Sometimes, I wish that my mother had just done something.”

Shanta, Mala's mother, played by Lillette Dubey, has been abandoned by her husband years ago. So, she turns to Lord Krishna for solace and mental peace. But Mala has a seething rage towards her mother, for not doing anything about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her uncle, which is reflected in several angry scenes between the two.
I am talking about all those times that he would do things to me,” says Mala. “First when I was seven, then eight, then nine. You would always be busy with your puja or the kitchen. I would go to daddy crying, and before I could tell him why I was crying he would send me to you. And without saying anything you would say I should just eat and sleep and all the pain would go away. And it did go away. But it comes back. It keeps coming back. It never goes away.”

To overcome the pain, Mala becomes promiscuous and has affairs. And she marks it on the calendar because every relationship has to end within 30 days. After that she has to move on. “They are usually older men,” says Mala. “I like it when they use me.”

Her latest boyfriend, Deepak (Joy Sengupta) is determined to hang on. He talks to Mala's counsellor, has a chat with the mother and suspects that there is something wrong with Mala. Despite that, he loves and wants to marry her.

In one stunning scene Deepak is trying to coax Mala to forget her past, while her uncle stands behind them and mouths the thoughts that are residing in Mala's subconscious mind. “Did you feel that?” says the uncle. “That means I love you. Your Mamu loves you. Don't cry. You are ready for your present for your seventh birthday. Now lie down. This is our secret. Pull your frock up over your face. Sssh... don't cry. Don't tell Mummy and Daddy. Don't stop until I tell you. You are fit only for this.”

Later, at the invitation of Shanta, the uncle stays at their house, while on an official visit to Delhi. There is a confrontation between Mala, Deepak, Shanta and the uncle. And, once more, in a heart-stopping climax, Shanta's horrific childhood abuse is revealed, done by her own brother, the uncle in Mala's life.
And a despairing Shanta shouts, “I am the one to blame. Because my tongue was cut off years ago. How could I save her, when I could not save myself? Have you seen the pain in my eyes? Nobody saw anything, not my cousins, not my brothers, not my parents.”

'30 Days in September' is a bleak but riveting play, and all the actors were up to the mark, but Lillette and Darshan Jariwala, who played the uncle, were a few notches above the youngsters. And for a lot of people in the audience, they could see, artistically and visibly, the impact of child sex abuse.

Says businesswoman Anita Goyal: “This is one play I just could not stop thinking about since the day I watched it. There is so much food for thought. So much to ponder on. So much to debate about. Although the main subject was child sex abuse, there was also the complicated relationship between mother and daughter. And the psychological help extended by the boyfriend towards his partner's woes was intertwined in the most harmonious way.

Meanwhile, there was one amusing moment at Kochi. During one period, lightning and rain could be heard on the soundtrack. But to Lillette's visible surprise – she kept looking upwards – the rain did not stop on cue. Instead, it continued for several minutes. But it was not the sound technician's fault. It was actually raining outside: Kerala's monsoon was making its presence felt. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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