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Sakubai, presented by Hindusthan club
Renu Roy as Sakubai, a Bihari help in a Bengali household in Calcutta. As Saku, she also imitated a number of other characters mentioned in the solo act. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

What happens when someone holds up the mirror and staring back at you is the face beneath all the make-up, reflecting the stark reality? In Sakubai, a play scripted by director-actress Nadira Zaheer Babbar in 1999, the person holding up that mirror is none other than your domestic help, the shadow of every Indian household.

The powerful play was performed by Renu Roy at Hindusthan Club, in association with t2, on Sunday.

Produced by Spandan, Roy’s solo act ran to a full house as club members and their guests watched with rapt attention the theatreperson and entrepreneur take on the role of the maidservant in a typical upper-class Bengali household.

From Shakuntala to Saku, from a young girl in Bihar to a domestic help in Calcutta — the journey of the working-class woman through the ups and downs of life and her reflections on it was acted out by Roy with effortless ease.

“Sakubai is a multi-faceted character — she is humorous, efficient, strong, courageous. It is a very sensitive script directed brilliantly by Ashok Singh. But it was the audience that I totally admired. I could feel their attention on the character, they understood the language (Bhojpuri) and were quite responsive,” said the actress after the hour-and-a-half performance.

The play wasn’t just about the little tiffs between employer and maid or the culture shock suffered by Saku (and her ilk) thanks to the increasing westernisation of not just clothes but also names in the city — it even took the audience through some very serious social issues. Rape, marital abuse, extra-marital affairs, gender discrimination — the play managed to capture it all through Saku’s voice.

“It is a neo-realist drama reflecting a harsh reality. I am impressed that Hindusthan Club hosted this poignant play,” said painter Shuvaprasanna as he sat in the audience.

“The play was a grand success. The members appreciated the endeavour. For me, personally, I guess it highlighted the humane side of the people who work in our homes and gave us a better understanding of their lives and thoughts,” said Shiv Kumar Lohia, the honorary joint secretary of Hindusthan Club.