When I read that “The Cut” had been shortlisted for The Hindu Playwright award in 2016, I was keen on watching it; so off I went to watch the play, staged by Theatre Nisha, a Chennai-based group, on Saturday, 27th May 2017.
I’d read two reviews of the play,
by Karan Pillai for The New Indian Express, on Jan 27, 2017
by Parshathy J Nath for The Hindu, on 30 Jan, 2017
I was expecting the sepia tones referred to in one, and the brilliant performances mentioned in the other (see photo below, from an earlier performance.)
The play is about two people, and their relationship in the midst of the horrors of war. One is a “comfort woman” forced into gangrape by soldiers in a war, and a country, that could be anywhere. The other is a soldier who’s also a doctor, treating the wounded men. As Meera Sitaraman, the playwright, has mentioned in an interview, “It was suggested as a short script by Balakrishnan (the director, who also plays the man in the production) for the Short+Sweet Festival ,2014. He was at the time, in Korea working on an Indo-Korean play. It is inspired by the true stories of Shofu slaves of the World War, but has been fictionalised to fit any conflict zone.”
A woman, a man and a girl (deliberately left unnamed) are the three main protagonists. The older woman, herself a “comfort woman”, gang raped and abused by the soldiers, is now with a doctor who has made her his “exclusive”, and so allows her to have a room to herself, a step up from the “virgin” and “shared” rooms. She finds emotional solace in the man; indeed, she says, she doesn’t want the war to end. Her home was destroyed, her family killled; this is the greatest security she has known till now, in spite of the pain and trauma. The older women are given “cuts” to prevent them from getting pregnant, and the younger ones are given the pill. If, in spite of this, any of them get pregnant.they are thrown out. In case any of them try to use this as a method of escaping the camp, their eyes are gouged out.
However, she also hides a young girl who has just arrived, in her room. She does not want the girl to go through the same horrors, and hopes to somehow get her out of the place. When the soldier-doctor is granted leave, and also discovers the young girl, she is torn between dread about her own future and her wish to save the girl. The man says he can take the young girl and save her; the young girl and the woman both plead with him to take them with him, and he says he cannot do so. The quick climax follows.
The costumes, as well as the simple props on the stage (a chair,bottles and food on a table, and a cupboard-like structure where the girl was hidden during the soldier’s visits) were the usual articles found in everyday life.
The lighting and the sound/music of the play were excellent. When, after a year of a non-physical relationship, the man and woman finally have sex which is loving, instead of the usual transactional intercourse, there is, in a subtle reference to the woman’s situation, a red light shining on them. Throughout the performance, the areas except centrestage were dark, referencing the darkness in the lives of those in the war camp. As one of the main protagonists, the director was, obvioulsy very involved at every moment of the play.
It is very unusual to have to separate the play, the script and the dialogue from the production, but that is what I had to do. I found the script very moving, evoking the horrors of war and the sufferings of women caught up in it; the conflict in the soldier’s mind, between affection and duty; the desperation of a young girl, who is not even sure what is happening to her, but only knows that she wants to get out of the situation.
It was subjective, but I could find the great performances that were mentioned in the staging of this show in January of this year. I felt that the dialogues were being woodenly recited, in a monotone rather than with any inflections, and initially thought that this was because the concept was that horrors of war might be better evoked by declaiming without emotion. But for the 60-odd minutes that the play lasted, we as an audience could never be drawn into the characters. Even the denouement was flat and without any, sorry to use the word, drama. Without an emotional involvement in the action on the stage, I felt curiously detached, and the play left no deep emotional impression on me. I could appreciate the play; as a production it lacked conviction.
However, I wonder if my friends and I were the only people who felt this way. The venue had about a half house for the afternoon play, which was quite good. (The play had 3 shows, Friday afternoon, Saturday afternoon and evening.) As we trooped outside after the play, I met my friend Nagaraj who said he’d watched the play the previous evening, and quite liked it.
Again, neither the cast nor the crew were introduced, and this produced further confusion when I read the brochure given out by Theatre Nisha. I understood that V Balakrishnan was playing the doctor/soldier, and Janani (I identified her from the photographs in the other reviews) played the woman. But the brochure mentioned three women, Janani, Roshini and Aparna. So who played the young girl, Roshini or Aparna? The audience never got to know.
Not being introduced to the cast or the crew (the brochure only mentioned technical support and did not assign credits for the stage design, costumes, lights or sound), we missed, further, the sense of involvement with the play, the script of which we were able to appreciate as a separate entity from its production.
The theatre group is now over 16 years old, so I am still unable to guage whether the deadpan delivery of the dialogue was indeed a deliberate method in the performance. Would I like to watch it again after a few months, to see how much further the production has involved? Or could I watch other productions by this group, to get a better idea of their work? I am mulling over this point now. I would certainly have liked to meet the playwright, the director or the cast..but that was not feasible, either.
“The Cut”, 80 min (It ran for just over 60 min)
Staged by: Theatre Nisha, Chennai
Playwright: Meera Sitaraman
Design and Direction: V Balakrishnan
Actors: V Balakrishnan, Janani Narasimhan, Roshini Sridhar, Aparna Kumar
Technical Support: Shakthi Ramani, Nikhil Bharadwaj, and Meera Sitaraman
Tickets: Rs. 200
Thanks for the response; I rarely get any feedback on my reviews..so I
am glad you reviewed my review. I take your feedback seiously, and
here are my responses inline.
Meera Sitaraman (MS) wrote:
Thank you for reviewing the play. A lot of your points are well-taken and I
can understand them to be your views and perspectives. We always work from
our audiences response to keep evolving and better ourselves.
Deepa Mohan (DM)
How do you get the audience response? Do you go by the applause or do
you get feedback in other ways?
However, there are a couple things that trouble me in this review. Factually, this play was conceived of only in 2014, and not 2001.
That was a typo, I have corrected it.
.The sepia undertone that was mentioned in the preview of the play written by Karan was a metaphorical reference to plain-ness, avoiding extravagance and colourful paraphernalia; it was never a literal reference to the sepia colour of properties or
I quote, ‘ “With lots of sepia-like colours and shadows (ala The
Godfather movies), the play’s lighting and costumes portray the
war-torn era with élan. “A lot of thought went into creating the
perfect attire for the play,” says Meera.’
Yes, I did think that there would be monochromatic lighting and costumes, too. I have deleted the references now that you have clarified about them.
Choosing to not introduce the cast and crew of the play is a tradition of Theatre Nisha, and shouldn’t be considered a point of conflict in the practice of the craft, that focuses more on creating the illusion of the play.
Yes, I understand, as many theatre groups choose this. But I can only
state my personal point of view: when I go to watch a play, I would
like to spend at least a few more minutes after the play, to see who
the people, who’ve put in the effort to bring the production to
fruition. I’ve often had discussions with the cast or crew member,
about the performance. This is, indeed, my point of view, and yours
differs. But I can’t say “you *should* introduce cast and crew
members” (as you tell me I shouldn’t consider the non-introduction a
point of conflict)…I only say, not introducing prevented me from
another avenue of trying to connect to the play.
And I sincerely hope you have taken permission to use the photograph.
The guidelines I follow:
I am not making commercial use of a photograph, which is already in the public domain.
I understand “public domain” as the permission to freely use (display,
modify, print, etc.) an image without asking permission from the image
author. However, it is still my responsibility, to make sure the
depicted content (persons, logos, private property, etc.) is suitable
for my application and does not infringe any rights.
The image I used is on the public domain (a newspaper review), and I
am making no commercial use of it. I am not paid for my review.
I really wish you had read the preview and the review with a bit more
clarity. The mention of the wooden bow was with reference to Karan’s
question on future plans of the group, and not about the play. Nowhere
does it mention that we were planning to use a bow.
The clarity was missing in the preview, and since you have clarified
it now, I am deleting the reference.
You have quoted a lot of what have I said to Parshathy and Karan, as
a part of a discussion that you are unaware of, hence the
interpretation of those statements is misled. I wish you had mailed
me the doubts you had for a clear clarification.
I perhaps agree with the “misled” part. But is not possible for me to
always email for clarification, wait for responses, and then post the
review. I’ve done this in the past and it has resulted in a delayed
review, with the post pending for days, as the theatre group responds
late…or not at all. Most theatre groups do not take a reviewer
seriously unless the words “staff reporter” are mentioned.
“Besides plans to take the production outside the city, they will soon
unveil their first wooden bow, to add to their PVC bows used in their
You will agree that this sentence is misleading to anyone who has not
yet seen the play; the wooden bow certainly seems to relate to the
production. But yes, since I was misled, I have now deleted the
references to both “sepia” and the wooden bow, in the review. If you
have the time or the inclination, read it as it stands now. This was
one reason I moved from print to online writing; factual and other
errors can be rectified.
This nitpicking from reviews and previews seems a little unprofessional and unethical.
I disgree with this statement. Every playgoer would like to read
reviews, if there are some, about the play to be watched. Referencing
them…I don’t call it nitpicking…seems neither unprofessional nor
unethical to me. You may disagree with what I have written, but please
don’t make value judgements. By the way, I am not a “professional”
writer or reviewer in terms of monetary compensation. But I take your
word in the sense of “it’s not done”. I have given the link to the
reviews specifically (not just mentioned them), so that the reader can
go through them, too.
I may write without remuneration, but (or perhaps, because of it) I
do take what I write very seriously. Writing a laudatory review is
easy; it’s much more difficult to articulate a difference of views
about a play, and convey appreciation as well as criticism, without
sounding condescending, or destructive. In my opinion, this, as well
as covering both the script and the stagecraft, is what a good theatre
review should be.
We do hope you come to Rangashankara to see our other performances to
know more about our work.
Yes, I will. I follow many theatre groups regularly. I often ask for
the script and go through it, too, as happened with Neel Chauduri of
the Tadpole Repertory. I felt the power of your play and script
throughout the performance; that’s why I wrote that I had to separate
the play from the production.
You have still not clarified if it was Roshini or Aparna who played
the young girl, and about whether the deadpan delivery of the dialogue
is, indeed, a way of containing and yet expressing the high emotions
of the play. I am not a reporter who writes a review and moves on to
the next assignment; I am a theatregoer, and I sometimes watch the
same play, or the work of the same group, again and again. (Eg. I’ve
followed Dramanon, Evam,and rafiki, for a long time now. I am an
almost-exclusively Ranga Shankara person as I walk there and back
home..or I go to theatre spaces that I can reach by public transport,
as I do not use a car.)
Hmm…it sounds as if I am justifying what I write…but what I am
doing is, taking your review as seriously as you took mine, and acting
on it! Certainly I have edited my review after reading what you have
written. I agree with you; a conversation with you would have made
quite a difference. But I also know that trying to talk to the cast or
crew in the middle of several performances is not usually possible.
I do not know where you are right now…but if, and when, you are in
Bangalore, I would appreciate a chat with you over filter kaapi at
Aditya (opposite Ranga Shankara)! You are the first person who’s
responded to a review of mine in this detailed way. If I’ve located
the right Meera Sitaraman on FB, you are from the University of Durham
and we have Vinay Chandra, whom I have very interesting conversations
with, and Ram Ganesh Kamatham, whose work I also follow, are mutual
If you have the time and inclination, I would like to further the
conversation with you.And I will understand, and accept it, if you do
not want to.
Thank you for reviewing the play. A lot of your points are well-taken and I can understand them to be your views and perspectives. We always work from our audiences response to keep evolving and better ourselves.
However, there are a couple things that trouble me in this review. Factually, this play was conceived of only in 2014, and not 2001. The sepia undertone that was mentioned in the preview of the play written by Karan was a metaphorical reference to plain-ness, avoiding extravagance and colourful paraphernalia; it was never a literal reference to the sepia colour of properties or costumes. Choosing to not introduce the cast and crew of the play is a tradition of Theatre Nisha, and shouldn’t be considered a point of conflict in the practice of the craft, that focuses more on creating the illusion of the play. And I sincerely hope you have taken permission to use the photograph. I really wish you had read the preview and the review with a bit more clarity. The mention of the wooden bow was with reference to Karan’s question on future plans of the group, and not about the play. Nowhere does it mention that we were planning to use a bow. You have quoted a lot of what have I said to Parshathy and Karan, as a part of a discussion that you are unaware of, hence the interpretation of those statements is misled. I wish you had mailed me the doubts you had for a clear clarification. This nitpicking from reviews and previews seems a little unprofessional and unethical.
We do hope you come to Rangashankara to see our other performances to know more about our work.