Alyque Padamsee’s much-hyped production of Death and the Maiden, presented by Spandan at Birla Sabhagar on April 10, turned out quite a damp squib. This recent London hit certainly does not enhance Ariel Dorfman’s reputation as one of Chile’s leading writers, who escaped from Pinochet’s regime and lived for many years as an exile in the US. The reasons are not far to seek: Dorfman takes a very, very serious subject—rape (which is not made more serious merely because he places it in a climate of political repression)—but proceeds to develop it in a completely contrary way, as, of all things, a suspense thriller.
Thus the possibilities of severely indicting this hideous male crime against women are unconsciously trivialized by arousing such trite whodunit questions as Did He Do It? or How Will She Wreak Revenge? If not for Dorfman’s stature as an activist, one would be tempted to offer the vicariousness of cinematic rape scenes as an analogy; only, instead of violence, he uses sniggery one-liners which further undercut the gravity of the offence. In his defence one can argue that the violation symbolizes the political torture of his country, and that the heroine represents all Chileans, but this intellectualizes the physical trauma and obscenity of female humiliation and dishonour. Justice is hardly the issue here.
Surprisingly, Dorfman’s dialogue is neither creatively inspired nor realistically down-to-earth. Frequently repetitive, it smacks of an immature and undramatic craftsmanship. This can be partly overcome by good editing and acting, but neither Padamsee nor the cast impresses in either directorial or histrionic matters. Sabira Merchant begins weakly but climbs to some emotional heights, Keith Stevenson (tied up most of the time) literally has no elbowroom to demonstrate his talent, and Homi Daruvala’s tinny “Oh my God”s symptomatize the quality of his delineation.
Footnote: producers Hosi Vasunia and Remu Javeri are guilty of flagrant false advertising—Dorfman has never won a Pulitzer Prize. Do they really think Indian spectators are that easily deceived?
(From The Telegraph, 30 April 1993)