IT HAPPENED IN KHATIJA’S VILLAGE

Group: The Red Curtain

Dramatist: Bobbi Ausubel

Director: Sumit Lai Roy

Review:

My 50-year-old connection with The Red Curtain has led me to associate their productions with scrupulous rigour, a combination of artistic dedication and disciplined teamwork that provided a model for groups. This history made me feel deeply disappointed by their latest play, It Happened in Khatija’s Village.

Bobbi Ausubel based her script, about a village that traditionally trafficked its own girls into the sex trade, on real-life happenings that she researched, with consultant Tinku Khanna of Apne Aap (the NGO that worked there and to whom the proceeds went). So everything theoretically checked the right boxes. However, from the start where women squabble like schoolkids over who gets to tell her story first, it just didn’t ring true. Ausubel’s American English often did not match the colloquial dialogue or vocabulary that the women speak in reality. The action actually occurred over several years, but the flat characterizations did not reflect this growth. Furthermore, Sumit Lai Roy’s direction made the rapid flash-back-and-forth scene sequence difficult to follow, even for a seasoned theatregoer like me.

Acting standards fluctuated wildly, with the exception of Pragya Gupta (Khatija), totally believable as the local procuress. The others were simply not in their respective characters, most of the rural women far too urban middle-class in manner, whereas the university-educated investigator began wailing in melodramatic hysterics. Since I have directed her myself years ago and know her talent, I can only attribute this aberration to bad direction. The entire show smacked sadly of amateurism. My comments pertain to the quality of theatre. I harbour no doubts whatsoever about the importance of the cause and the success story of female education ensuring empowerment in Khatija’s village.