In March this year, a play on crimes against women had the performers — known faces such as hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani and actor Poorna Jagannathan among others — shun their veil of shame and narrated the horrors they went through. 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’ bold recountings of rape and sexual abuse as a child.
Now, Poorna Jagannathan, the producer of Nirbhaya, is hoping that she can repeat the feat, albeit this time with another pertinent issue that plagues the society. Her two new productions, All the Rage and The Tricky Part, which will be staged in the city 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 the 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 Poorna Jagannathan, explaining her motivation for backing the plays, which will travel to Bangalore and Delhi after their premiere in Mumbai.
A stage actor of Indian origin, Jagannathan has been part of several international TV series such as Royal Pains. She made her Bollywood debut with Delhi Belly. Nirbhaya marked her return to theatre.
Both the 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 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.
But by showcasing these stories, Jagannathan hopes to address “cycles of abuse”. “At a time we are trying to combat sexual violence against women and eradicate its roots, we remain relatively blind and silent to sexual violence against boys. We cannot solve sexual violence against women without engaging men. If you’ve been affected by sexual violence, you’re much less likely to engage in solving the problem: there’s a tendency to think violence is the norm, you have wrapped notions of sexuality and a higher proclivity to perpetuate violence.”
However, in contrast to Nirbhaya, where the narration was stark and confrontational, making the audience squirm in their seats when faced with the ugly truth, Moran’s telling this time is lighter and she 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,” says Jagannathan.
Tricky Part will be staged on October 30 at the NCPA and on November 1 at Prithvi House. All the Rage will be showcased at the NCPA on October 31 and at Prithvi House on November 2.
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