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Stage On & Off
Lillete and Neha Dubey in 30 Days in September at GD Birla Sabhagar;

The halls are packed to capacity every time Lillete Dubey storms the city with one of her plays. But the Calcutta Film Festival had robbed GD Birla Sabhagar of some of her fans last Sunday, where the veteran staged her directorial production, 30 Days in September. Apart from Lillete, the cast included daughter Neha, alongside Joy Sengupta and Amar Talwar.

30 Days in September, presented by Sanskriti Sagar, is thematically disturbing and difficult to adapt on stage. It explores the consequences of child abuse in adult life with great sensitivity and objectivity.

Written by Mahesh Dattani, the play was commissioned by RAHI (Recovery and Healing from Incest), a Delhi-based organisation that works with child abuse victims in the middle and upper-middle classes. While Dattani studied a string of cases before putting pen to paper, Lillete based her research on The House I Grew Up In, a book published by RAHI where several real-life incidents narrated by child abuse victims are chronicled.

At the centre of 30 Days in September is an advertising professional, Mala, who had been continuously abused by her maternal uncle from age seven. Despite a successful career and a caring boyfriend, Mala seems always on the edge and nurtures a strange fondness for middle-aged men. Her relationship with her mother, a docile housewife who too was abused by the same man in her childhood, is strained and fragile.

But as the family secrets come tumbling out ' at the instigation of Mala's boyfriend, played by Joy Sengupta ' the women bond and also find the voice to speak out.

Joy Sengupta (above) and Amar Talwar at the same show. Pictures by Pabitra Das

Dattani, though initially wary about how the play would turn out, has touched upon aspects of abuse seldom discussed or dealt with.

The complex abuser-abused relationship and the subtle ways in which the abuser controls and implicates his victim in the act has been dealt with in a sensitive manner. Without resorting to sensationalism, the play evokes loathing for the abuser.

With such an issue, one also runs the risk of things getting awkward for both actor and audience. Far from it, 30 Days in September often challenges its actors to emote some of the most difficult scenes without the help of a co-actor. Neha, who plays Mala (earlier essayed by Nandana Dev Sen), lends a searing edge to this disturbed character reeling under the dual strain of trauma and guilt.

More than Neha, it is stage veteran Talwar (one may remember him as the man Mandira Bedi was pitted against in her debut soap Shanti) who steals the show, enacting a difficult and disgusting scene of abuse in solitude, looking straight into the dark. He is brilliant as the unrepentant, opportunistic brother and uncle.

Sengupta, as Mala's sensitive boy friend desperate to help her deal with the ordeal, makes his presence felt.

As the shaky and ever-on-the edge mother, Lillete is remarkable. But she deserves more praise for her conviction in turning Dattani's play into a successful production ' 30 Days in September has touched audiences across India and abroad since its debut in 2002.

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