Durga may have departed, but her spirit lives in two female solo acts. Lushin Dubey, consistently working for social awareness, stages fact in her current production, Aruna’s Story, presented by Open Doors and The Kolkata Festival. Suranjana Dasgupta writes and performs science fiction in Nirbak Academy’s Mrs Udgarica. Whether fact or fiction, the two ladies foreground the humane.
The horrendous rape in 1973 of the nurse Aruna Shanbaug, leaving her in a vegetative existence till her death in 2015, led to Pinki Virani’s book Aruna’s Story, which director Arvind Gaur dramatized for Dubey. Starting with the brutal assault, Gaur’s script travels by flashback through Shanbaug’s youth in her village in Karnataka, her desire to become a nurse, her personal life and love, her training and career in the Mumbai hospital where a janitor raped her, and the controversies surrounding appeals for her euthanasia, ending with the Supreme Court judgment.
Dubey’s phenomenal acting skills, particularly her vocal range including male registers, singing, and various English, Hindi, Marathi and Konkani accents, enable her to portray nearly 20 characters distinctively. She could dwell more on the outrageous medical cover-up that let the offender free of sexual crime charges, facilitating his release after seven years. An artist-activist should not merely document, but re-emphasize, aiming to prevent the recurrence of injustice.
Little details make a bigger difference in a genre like sci-fi, where scientific probability influences our acceptance. In Mrs Udgarica, Suranjana Dasgupta imagines a future 200 years ahead where humanity communicates across planets but loses its human relationships, specifically that between mother and daughter. I have no arguments with this theme or her own superlative robotic enactment torn apart by maternal affection, but feel surprised that the young director, Niladri Bhattacharya, who must have seen enough landmark sci-fi films, has not spotted many implausibilities.
The eponymous title itself raises eyebrows: “Mrs”, when even today we prefer “Ms”? Identifiably plastic boxes when the whole globe now moves to reject the dangerous material? Cameras and selfies when most experts foresee holographic recall, rendering our old technologies obsolete? Remote-control buggies when we already use drones? Does human aging on another world remain the same? Who and where define Earth Standard Time? Suchlike nitty-gritty demand thorough research and rectification.
(From The Times of India, 11 October 2019)