[ Bengali Play with English supertitles ]
Gargi Mukherjee, New Jersey
Gargi Mukherjee, a well-known actor in South Asian theatre communities in New York and New Jersey, has appeared in a major Hollywood film, “The Namesake,” in which she had a featured role, and in another award-winning film, “Karma Calling,” in which she played one of the leads. She has also written and directed a well-received play, “Our Voices,” which explores the issues of race, ethnicity, and gender among children growing up as part of the South Asian diaspora. It was performed again in 2017 at the South Asian Theatre Festival in Columbus, Ohio.
Mukherjee was recently seen as one of the actors in a highly acclaimed New York theatre production, “Women on Fire: Stories from the Frontlines,” staged at the Royal Family Performing Arts Space, in the heart of midtown Manhattan. She also appears on a regular basis at the South Asian Theater Festival, held every year either at George Street Playhouse/Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ or in previous years at NJPAC. She has worked with stalwart directors from India, namely Amol Palekar, Usha Ganguli, Bibhash Chakraborty, and in the US, with directors such as, Farley Richmond, Joanna Sherman, among others. She last appeared as one of the leads in the play, “Dhaboman (The Run)” written by Bangladeshi playwright Selim Al Deen and before then in “Marat/Sade” and “The Three Penny Opera.” Last year, she performed her one-woman show, “Mrinal’s Letter” at The United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City and “The Breast Chronicle,” another one-woman show, in previous years at the Crossroads Theatre/New York International Fringe Theatre Festival to much critical acclaim. She has also performed at the Edison Valley Playhouse, Queens Theatre in the Park (NY), Ramapo College and Fairleigh Dickinson University, and the Forum Theatre in New Jersey.
Mukherjee is SVP, Creative Director of copy at Havas Gemini, a healthcare communications agency in New York.
Golam Sarwar Harun, New Jersey
Harun, originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, is a singer, actor, and director of plays, films and television commercials. Living in the US for the last several years, Harun has been highly active in the South Asian Community theater scene, with stellar performances in plays ranging from Bertolt Brecht’s “Three Penny Opera” to Peter Weiss’ “Marat-Sade,” Sudraka’s “Mrichchakatikam,” staged by Epic Actors' Workshop, and “Holiday Jubilee” directed by Rick Sordelet. He is also the Artistic Director of Dhaka Drama, a theatre group based in Queens, New York. His notable directorial work includes “Michhe Kolahol,” a collage of Tagore's plays performed in NJ and NY and “Dhaboman (The Run)” as part of the 12th South Asian Theater Festival in 2017, 'Nirastra' (Unarmed) performed at 13th South Asian Theatre Festival, 2018 and 'Stories of Jackson Heights' with a world premier at Queens theatre, NY, and other performances at the 14th South Asian Theatre Festival, 2019, Ramapo College, Jamaica Performing Arts Center, NY among others. Apart from his electrifying acting, visual expertise in directing, Harun is also well-known for his deep melodious singing voice. This multitalented artist has acted in movies, including Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.”
Harun is also the Chief Creative Officer, Founder of his agency, Sutra Advertising in Queens, NY.
Inspired by the short story ‘Draupadi’ and other stories by Mahasweta Debi
Script and Direction: Gargi Mukherjee and Golam Sarwar Harun
English translation: Kamala Prasad Das
Executive producer: Dipan Ray
Performed by: Epic Actors’ Workshop, NJ
Sajal Mukherjee as Senanayak
Abhijit Neogy as Arjan Singh/Adivasi
Dipan Ray as Surja Sahu
Alo Nandi as Adivasi/Soldier
Tia Ghosh as wife of Musai Tudu/Soldier/Adivasi
Sudipta Buya Chatterjee as wife of Surya Sahu/Soldier/Adivasi
Arindam Dutta as Arijit Nandi/Soldier/Adivasi
Kanjaz Chakraborty as Harwa/Soldier
Surya Chaudhuri as Chamru/Soldier/Adivasi
Gargi Mukherjee as Dopdi
Golam Sarwar Harun as Dulhan/Soldier
Original Score & Music Direction: Birsa Mukherjee Chatterjee
Sound execution : Partha Chakraborty
Set design: Gargi Mukherjee and Golam Sarwar Harun
Set build: Syed Azizur Rahman, Avijit Halder
Light Design and Execution: Sunanda Mitra
Costume: Golam Sarwar Harun
Props: Sharbani Mukherjee and Surya Chaudhuri
Production Manager: Alo Nandi
Supertitles: Prabir Mitra
Consultant: Abhik Chatterjee, Kolkata, India
Special thanks: Irin Parvin Lopa, Kamruzzaman Runu, Subhasis Das, Sabyashachi De
The play “Nirastra” or “Unarmed” is an adaptation of several short stories by Mahasweta Devi, “Draupadi” being the primary one. Draupadi or Dopdi is a tribal woman, representing any of the Adivasis (indigenous people) that range from Arunachal to Telangana, Tripura to Madhya Pradesh. These tribals were oppressed by the local landlords for ages with the aid of local panchayat (the law) and police (the order). For a paltry loan of a few rupees or a few pounds of rice made by some ancestor, these tribals were forced into indentured servitude, to toil in and around the landlords’ house without any pay, for generations. Their lives were so meager, it’s a mystery how they survived starving, and being half-naked. What is not a mystery is that it was the social and financial interest of the bourgeois institution of the upper classes that kept these tribals in such a state of bare survival. The historical background of “Nirastra” (Unarmed) is the Naxalbari movement of the 60’s, during which a group of urban young men, enthused by the teachings of Karl Marx and Mao Tse Tung, took up the causes of downtrodden tribals, and encouraged them to fight for their rights against the tyranny of the landlords. Urged by political parties, the State and the Central Government deployed large police and army divisions to defeat the Naxalites and used every possible means of torture, rape, and killing to squash the movement. “Nirastra” (Unarmed) depicts the story of this uprising and the brutality of the landlords as well as the army in subjugating the tribals through Dopdi and her husband Dulan. A landlord withdraws rice and water and eventually murders a tribal for taking water from a stream in his property. The tribals led by Dopdi and Dulan, kill him in revenge and the trouble starts. Dulan is consequently killed by the army and Dopdi is hunted by army officers, Arjan Singh and Senanayak. Eventually Dopdi is captured by Senanayak, who is a cunning Machiavellian scholar aspiring for greatness. The army brutally rapes her under his orders to force her to reveal information about her comrades. Beaten and repeatedly raped Draupadi strips her clothes, defies the rapist soldiers and confronts Senanayak declaring: “You can strip me naked, how will you clothe me again? Are you a man? There is no man here to be ashamed of. I’ll not let anyone put a cloth on me. What more can you do? Kill me?”
Under the veneer of the Naxalbari story, the play also strips bare another eternal topic, that of the culture of misogyny and rape in most societies. Dopdi is an uneducated lowly tribal from the lowest rung of India’s socio-religio-economic classes. Interestingly, the Santal tribals follow a much more egalitarian tradition, treating women as men’s equals than the mainstream patriarchal Indian society. Dopdi fights side by side with her husband Dulan for the tribal rights as a Naxalite in the first part of the play. In the second part, after Dulan’s death, she fights not just for the rights of the tribals but perhaps more poignantly she fights for all women as she fights her rapist male oppressors from the male dominated society, on her own.
With her stand, Dopdi, our protagonist, rises above the men who raped her. The violation is symbolically not just against tribals but against all women. Dopdi gives voice to all denigrated women who are violated by men. The patriarchal society may deploy rape as a systematic tool and as a power of manhood to exercise social control, but Dopdi is undiminished and undaunted by her rape and nakedness and pulverizes the paternalistic views on women, shame, rape, purity, and honor as she confronts Senanayak and reduces the manhood of her rapist oppressors.