New play inspired by a Harold Pinter classic looks at adultery minus judgment

Feb 14, 2018, 10:04 IST | Shunashir Sen

The stinging pain of being the victim in an extra-marital affair can be excruciating for a person to process. But, when we say victim, who do we really mean?

Dipika, Saurabh Saraswat and Kunal Sharma rehearse for An Unfinished Play
Dipika, Saurabh Saraswat and Kunal Sharma rehearse for An Unfinished Play

The stinging pain of being the victim in an extra-marital affair can be excruciating for a person to process. But, when we say victim, who do we really mean? Is it as black and white as a myopic society typically deems it to be, where the partner who has strayed is made to stand in the people's court with morally outraged fingers pointed in his or her direction? Or should we instead view such incidents through a prism of grey? For, can it be that betrayal — in the truest sense of the word — is a multifaceted concept, where the "victim" is often the perpetrator of such unspeakable horrors that his or her better half takes natural recourse down the thorny path of adultery?

These are some of the questions that first-time director Saurabh Saraswat addresses in An Unfinished Play. In it, a character named Preet is directing his wife Aarohi in a production of English dramatist Harold Pinter's Betrayal, which means that the plotline involves a play within a play.

Dipika and Saraswat in a scene from the play
Dipika and Saraswat in a scene from the play

Now, Pinter's story deals with the extra-marital relationship that a person's wife enters with his closest friend. Taking off from there, in Saraswat's adaptation, Preet instructs Aarohi to develop feelings for Aarav, his best friend, who essays the character that she is supposed to romance in their staging of Betrayal. Why? Because Preet feels that unless his wife and best friend actually feel attached to each other — only to get willfully detached once their play is over — he won't be able to attain the creative honesty he craves.

What happens in the process is that the three characters unravel subconscious layers of understanding about each other, and about themselves. This is where the ambiguity of what it means to betray, and be betrayed, enters the picture. Aarav ends up falling for Aarohi, and feels let down when she eventually distances herself from him. Aarohi herself is confused throughout about the level of affection her husband holds for her, since he is willing to sacrifice her emotions at the altar of creative honesty. And Preet, at the end of the play, feels an acute sense of betrayal that doesn't stem from sexual infidelity, but which he had nonetheless brought upon himself with the lies he peddled to reach his own selfish end.

Saurabh Saraswat
Saurabh Saraswat

Overall, then, this play holds a mirror to a society where a misplaced sense of ego runs so high that newspapers run out of space to report all the shameful honour killings, murders born out of jealousy and acid attacks that put a blotch on human history virtually every single day. But what understanding did Saraswat — who has also written and acted in the drama — glean about the contours of extra-marital relationships in the process of putting An Unfinished Play together?

"See, getting connected emotionally to more than one person is not a crime. It's okay. But there is always one moment of making a choice that people are faced with. And until you actually do something that has been taboo for you, it will take a lot of courage for you to take that step. But once you have crossed that line, you won't feel afraid to do it again. And you think, 'Okay, this is the last time.' Only, there is never a last time. It is always the beginning of the next. So, that moment eventually becomes a monster that never leaves your side," he says, before ending with, "Also, in our play, Aarohi is willing to give Preet a chance to atone for his betrayal. But Preet isn't willing to do the same for her. Yaar, male-dominated society toh hai hi hamaari."

On: Tonight, 6.30 pm and 9 pm
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