Of watching plays and observing the audience


Despite my likeness and affinity towards watching plays, in general, and the fact that I’m currently based in a city that boasts of a strong and rich theater culture, I have rarely had the chance to watch a play. Partly because of my hectic schedule and nonchalance but more so because I’m usually unable to find company to watch it with. But this time I did and probably because of the star cast of the play that I went to see. Between the Lines is a 105 minute-long play starring Nandita Das, who has also co-written and directed the play. Interestingly, the play has only two actors-Das and her real-life husband Subodh Maskara-who shoulder the entire play playing the role of an affluent lawyer couple, Maya and Shekhar, also briefly playing the role of the clients they represent in a case that affects their personal and professional lives deeply.

A little on the plot first: The lives of lawyer couple Maya (Das) and Shekhar (Subodh Maskara, Das’s husband) are thrown out of gear when both end up on opposite sides of a case. After years of not practicing, Maya decides to defend a woman who may or may not have accidentally shot her husband. Shekhar, a celebrated lawyer who never loses in court, is the prosecution. In the course of the case, Maya perceives parallels between her life and that of her client, a woman from a conservative family who is physically abused by her husband. Maya realizes that patriarchy exists not just in the home of people of the lower classes but even in the homes of well-educated folk. Shekhar might not beat his wife but he is embedded with regressive ideas of womanhood and wifely duties. (Source here)

Picture courtesy Chhoti Productions

Picture courtesy Chhoti Productions

The story is simple, the plot has some amount of creativity and innovation. A story that deals with the idea of womanhood (if at all it is something that can be categorized) and gender disparity can never grow old. What particularly impressed me was the finesse with which the two actors played their roles and didn’t make the audience feel that the 100 minute play had no more than two actors. It didn’t need any more actors; they filled up the void (if any). Das, as always is brilliant and exceptional acting is anyway expected out of her. My takeaway was Mr. Subodh who floored me with his strong stage presence, dialogue delivery and acting. As a debut performance, this was one par excellence.

But the story-telling lacked tight editing. The second-half seemed stretched and prolonged. A lot of scenes could have been done away it and the only reason they were tolerable was because of the two actors’ fine acting. A lot of the play’s flaws were covered up and easy to ignore owing to the use of props on stage and the interesting choice of background music, especially when Maya muses on her life as a married, employed woman. While some of the dialogues are clichéd and lack an element of surprise  the play works well with its dependence on dry humour. However, it was surprising to see an audience of about 500 people in that huge auditorium (Tata Theatre, NCPA). Not just because of the sheer turn out, which was very heartening, but because of their response during the play’s performance. In scenes that spoke of Kavitha’s (Maya’s client) domestic violence and her resignation to it as something that she deserves, the audience welcomed her ignorance with peals of laughter. If not anything else, it was disturbing to witness a set of elite and middle class people (presumably well-informed on issues of gender violence and gender discrimination) laughing at misogyny and sexism, when the play, actually, set out to achieve the opposite.

Nevertheless, it is a recommended watch. My rating: ***

Read other reviews here and here.
Nandita talks about her acting, co-writing, directing, producing and acting along with her husband.

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