Profit over people
A corporate farce returns to the stage with a renewed perspective on how communities bear the cost of economic development
In a remote village by a gurgling brook dwells a tribal community. It lives in perfect harmony with nature, worshipping its many forms, earning its livelihood from nature's bounties. Its existence ignored for decades, it could do with some more attention. Better education and health facilities, for example. One fine day, a giant corporation discovers a wealth of minerals in the region, and years of neglect make way for blinding limelight. More jobs, cellphone towers and metalled roads change the face of the village. Until one fine day, the corporation leaves lock, stock and barrel. The village is orphaned again, this time, with no natural resources to turn to.
This village could be in the Niyamgiris of Odisha or Bastar in Chhattisgarh. The community could be the Dongria Kondhs or the Gondhs. And the corporation, Vedanta or Bhilai Steel Plant. The cost of such economic development remains the same across geographies. Only, it grows worse every year.
When Project S.T.R.I.P. premiered in Mumbai in 2009, the corporate farce dealt with the complex relationship between economic growth and the annihilation of communities in a Kafkaesque manner. Except that in nine years, the truth seems to have become stranger than fiction.
Quasar Thakore Padamsee
"When we were staging the play regularly, the focus was on getting the show right. But [after the three-year hiatus], the play itself has ended up being a bit prophetic. While we were talking about a fictitious situation in a mineral-rich strip of land in the Bay of Bengal, it's what the central part of our country seems to be stuck with," says director Quasar Thakore Padamsee, sharing how the script of the play was developed. "I came across stories of indigenous communities getting wiped out in North America and Australia during my travels, and playwright Ram Ganesh Kamatham was on a similar journey in Odisha and parts of Andhra Pradesh. This is a universal problem."
With contemporary tweaks made to the script, which unfolds as a corporate comedy, viewers can find glimpses of the selfie culture in the play, and sharp, quippish dialogues. About the unusual title of the play, Padamsee says, "While 'strip' stands for the strip of land that the corporation has its eyes set on, 'project' is an allegory for all government projects that keep changing with extended deadlines and varying outcomes."
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