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Notes from the Other Side

After the success of Nirbhaya, Poorna Jagannathan hopes her two new productions will spread awareness on sexual abuse of boys

Written by Dipti Nagpaul |
October 29, 2014 12:22:25 am

In March this year, a play on crimes against women had performers —  known faces such as hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani and actor Poorna Jagannathan among others — shun their veil of shame and narrate the horrors they experienced. Titled Nirbhaya — after the moniker given to the Delhi gang rape victim, whose courage was the inspiration for the play — it focused on sexual crimes. The play, which toured several Indian metropolitan cities, managed to bring the discussion on what had been a largely taboo subject, into mainstream with the performers recounting their sexual abuse as a child.

Jagannathan, who produced Nirbhaya, is hoping she can repeat the feat with another pertinent issue. Her two new productions, All The Rage and The Tricky Part, which will be staged in Mumbai between October 31 and November 2 as part of Tata Literature Live!, focus on sexual abuse of the male child.

“While researching for Nirbhaya, I came across a statistic that one in every two boys are sexually abused in India. The culture of shame surrounding male sexual abuse prevents survivors from seeking help or healing,” says Jagannathan, who will travel with the two productions to Bangalore and Delhi next. A stage actor of Indian origin, Jagannathan has been part of several international TV series such as Royal Pains and made her Bollywood debut with Delhi Belly.

Both productions are one-man plays with American actor Martin Moran. Much like Nirbhaya, the stories of the two plays derive from the performer’s own life — a sexual relationship he had between the age of 12 and 15 with an older man, a counsellor he met at a Catholic boys camp. The plays have been directed by US-based Seth Barrish. Jagannathan says that Moran wrote the plays to gain perspective and authority over his past. “Moran says the act of writing them has brought him squarely and joyfully into the present,” she adds.

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But by showcasing these stories, Jagannathan hopes to address “cycles of abuse”. “At a time when we are trying to combat sexual violence against women and eradicate its roots, we remain relatively blind and silent to sexual violence against boys,” she says.

However, in contrast to Nirbhaya, where the narration was stark and confrontational, Moran’s telling uses humour to speak about the subject. “The effect is that audiences become deeply engaged and a topic as hard as sexual abuse against boys becomes possible to talk about and explore. As Martin says, we need to laugh in order to trust one another and sit together to talk about the tough stuff,” she adds.

The Tricky Part and All The Rage will be staged at  India Habitat Centre on November 15 and 16. Tickets are available at IHC.
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