April 16, 2018

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The current production of Alipha is an example of theatre at its best, with a great amount of ‘simpatico’ between playwright and director on the one hand, and director and actors on the other. Poile Sengupta has an incredible felicity in fleshing out her characters, and you are bound to immediately connect with them as they remind you of people you have met.

Two actors command your attention for an hour on either side of the stage. One is a little orphan girl (Kavya Srinivasan) being raised by an aunt; she dreams of going to an English medium school and is ecstatic at a scholarship. The other actor (Anirudh Acharya) is the son of a politician, entitled and self-obsessed, used to riding rough shod over anybody who comes in the way of his greed and appetite. Their lives run on tangential tracks until they collide with disastrous results.

Under the deft tutelage of Arundhati Raja, the actors and audience are held in a bond that is strangely disturbing; this is both a compliment to the director and cast, and a tragic reflection on society.

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Anirudh Acharya (left) & Kavya Srinivasan in Alipha. Photos: Roy Sinai

In the 17 years that have passed since Poile Sengupta, easily one of the best Indian contemporary playwrights, wrote this play, many things have changed. But some unfortunately continue to be the same, bearing out the truth that art is often a reflection of our times.

The day I went to see the play at Jagriti, there were unusual scenes at the corner of most streets and outside most apartment complexes. Groups of anguished citizens, women, men, children, seniors, stood holding banners in silent protest. They were all seeking justice for young girls and teenagers brutally raped, tortured and murdered in Unnao and Kathua. Even as protests gathered, there were reports of a similar case in Surat. In the days before this, there were candle-light protests, also quiet and dignified – the enormity of the crime weighed too heavily on the collective conscious to permit the usual trite sloganeering.

The sad reality is that there are several more that are never reported or investigated. While every victim, known or unknown, deserves justice there are a few cases that become cause célèbres. They light fires of indignation, stir people up from self- indulgent stupor. They gather a momentum galvanising the public to action.  Some lead to justice, some might fizzle out.

A crime free society is an Utopian dream that never has been and can never be. But the horrific instances of Unnao, Kathua and Surat are crimes of violation, torture and murder that demand that we speak up. Like Poile’s protagonist who teaches the Alipha - the alphabet - to children and women, we are learning P for Protest, J for Justice.

Alipha is on until Sun, 22nd April at Jagriti. Timings:Tuesday to Friday: 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday: 3 pm & 6:30 pm

Sandhya Mendonca