Staging sedition

Updated: Feb 14, 2020, 10:13 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

A play takes a satirical look at the draconian sedition law and its misuse over the years

The play tackles a serious subject with satire
The play tackles a serious subject with satire

Halahal is the mythical poison Shiva drank to save the world, one that earned him the name Neelkanthak. Writer-director Priyanka Charan found resonance with the story with respect to the country's draconian sedition law, "just like the words that choke us when they can't find a voice." And so, her play that was first staged at the Vibha Mishra theatre festival in Bhopal last year and premieres in the city on Saturday is called Halla-hal.

The solo performance tells the story of a mother (played by Sonali Bhardwaj) whose son asks too many questions. While she questions her parenting at first, she realises that there is in fact nothing wrong in the act of questioning. The son is later booked under the sedition law. The mother's lament is on a largely bare stage, save for a torn bloodied kurta that fills in for the son's absence. The story is set in an unnamed place, the language is Hindustani and the costume can't be traced back to a singular culture. "You can't tell whether the woman is Hindu, Muslim or Jesuit. She wears a headscarf, mekhala, an umbrella skirt and slacks. The outfit is both Indian and Western," says Charan, who gave up a banking job for full-time theatre and films.

The play tackles a serious subject with satire

Despite being a serious subject, Charan decided to use satire to make a point and raise relevant questions. "Things are so bizarre that I couldn't do anything other than comedy. As many as 10,000 villagers in a single district in Jharkhand were booked for sedition," she says. The narrative uses relatable everyday stories to drive home the audacious yet severe implications of the law. It does not speak of specific cases but draws from them in whole or in part keeping the intended ambiguity intact.

Charan was initially reluctant to stage the play in Mumbai fearing the reactions it might bring about in the current climate. The play has also seen some evolution and additions over its resting period. "I wrote it in October and ironically, everything I wrote back then has come true. It was supposed to be satire," she says, alluding to the times we live in.

On February 16, 7.30 pm
At Champak Studio 1, next to Yash Raj,
Fun Republic Lane, Andheri West.
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Cost Rs 250

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