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A footnote in history

Ethics, equality and ownership of your own DNA are some of the issues that HeLa, an Edinburgh Guide-winning play raises. Quasar Thakore Padamsee brings it to Mumbai this week

Last August, when Vivek Rao, a producer at Q Theatre Productions (QTP) was in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Showcase by the British Council, he came across a play called HeLa.

Adura Onashile in the play HeLa
Adura Onashile in the play HeLa 

“Immediately after watching it, he called me and said we have to bring this play down to India,” says theatre director Quasar Thakore Padamsee. The Edinburgh Guide-winning play is about Henrietta Lacks, who in the year 1951, walked into the coloured section of the John Hopkins Hospital with pain in her abdomen. And without her permission, the doctors took her cell sample that ultimately led to ground-breaking scientific discoveries.

But that’s not the whole story. While the HeLa cell line played an invaluable role in medicine, Lacks was unaware about it and her family has lived without proper healthcare and in poverty their entire life. So the basic premise of the play stems from the ethics of bio-medical research and the practice of informed consent.

“Here is a small footnote in the history of the world and you suddenly realise how important that footnote is. Because everything we know about medicine and about genetics is thanks to this woman,” he adds.

Padamsee says, that those were very issues, that pulled them into bringing the play down to India as part of their production house’s 15-year completion. Talking about the Indian connect, the theatre personality says, “In India, the issues we are talking about these days are corruption, ethical business practices, and equality.

Lacks’ story is also about prejudice and equal rights, which are again things which have resurfaced very strongly in our times. We think it’s quite important that we learn from the mistakes that people have made in the past. And also ask the question, does the end justify the means?” The solo show by Adura Onashile will have projections, videos, sets, props and more. “It’s a multi-media theatre experience. There is drama, history, it is documentative and a pure theatre experience as there is only one actor on stage. We can’t really pigeonhole it in a category,” he adds.

The other thing he is excited about is the venue. Sitara Studio in Dadar is an exciting space for Padamsee who believes that a city like Mumbai needs more cultural hubs. “Part of QTP’s plan for 2014 is to popularise these spaces. One of the reasons we chose Sitara Studio is because it’s a multi-purpose space and has a huge history and tradition as years back, it used to be a Marathi theatre called Panshikar Theatre,” says Padamsee. The play travels to Delhi and Bangalore after this.

When: February 15 and 17, 8 pm and February 16, 5 pm and 8 pm
Where: Sitara Studio, Tilak Bhavan, Kakasaheb Gadgil Marg, Babasaheb Ambedkar Nagar, Dadar West
Tickets: Rs 300
Bookings: Log on to www.bookmyshow.com

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