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Noted director Saleem Shah’s play on ‘sexual harassment’ becomes talk of the town

Saleem Shah and Vani Kumar essaying the lead roles in the play gave memorable performances

There are several facets of the issue of sexual harassment especially in work places and obviously it requires to be seen with a pragmatic view and with empathy and sensitivity. Using stage as the platform, Saleem Shah, the noted theatre director precisely does this through the Hinglish play “Between You & Me Too”, penned by Mrinal Mathur.

Staged at Alliance Francaise, Lodhi Road to a packed auditorium, the plot was tight, the dialogues sharp and the acting truly memorable. The story revolves around Sahil Kukreja (Shah), a senior banker who is accused of sexual harassment by his former female colleague. Shah starts the ball rolling from the word go. He enters the office of Indu Chaudhary, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Anti Women Violence Cell, wondering why he out of all people has been summoned.

Between You and Me Too3
The humour in the play makes the play interesting and engaging

Talking about what made him pen this story, Mathur told India Narrative: “My writing is usually triggered by a conflict. This was no different. When the #metoo movement was at its apogee, the counter narrative centered around the presumption of innocence and misunderstandings caught my eye. This led me to write a play where none, including the writer, know whether the protagonist is guilty or not and thus pose an unanswered question, which may perhaps bring us face to face with our own biases and remind us of the need for empathy and dialogue.”

Essaying ACP’s role, Vani Kumar, brings out the personality of a police officer in all its shades. Soft at times, she provokes, feigns surprise and ignorance, becomes stern, all within a few seconds. While conversing and questioning Kukreja, she spins him and he inadvertently narrates incidents involving him and other female co-workers. Hearing these, Chaudhary wonders if all the bankers just keep romancing instead of working. She then adds that no wonder so many scams involving banks are taking place in India.

Playwright Mathur ensures that every now and then the humour keeps coming through, with both ACP Kumar and Kukreja timing their funny dialogues perfectly. Talking about the use of humour, Shah told India Narrative that it was no preplanned or preconceived and that if you do a play about a serious subject like sexual harassment in a morose or tragic way, it would be uninteresting. “Humour, as they say, can dismantle barriers of all kinds and I think we have been able to achieve that. A large part of our audiences for this play have been women and they have adored the play.”

Shah emotes well to reflect the surprise, shock, disbelief, desperation and innocence of a respectable man being hauled over coals for his misconduct with women.

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By using an alter ego, the play peels the layers of past and questions of present

Mathur’s use of an alter ego essayed by Jay Singh is what lends the twist to the tale. It is the exchanges between the two that brings out the truth. Sharing as to how this came about, Mathur informed India Narrative: “It was Saleem Shah’s dramaturgical brilliance that led to this character. I was searching for a device where the layers of the past and questions of the present can be peeled further and take the audience deeper into the crevices of the mind where sexually offensive behaviour lies. He suggested the alter ego because it can act as a foil, yet divulge information that ironically confuses the audience further and leaves the play hanging on the precipice with a question, or rather, the need to ask questions, whatever the nature of the offence.”

Following a generous round of applause for all the three actors and others, Shah addressing the audience remarked that the issue dealt with in this play will remain relevant as long it is viewed judgmentally instead of empathically. He hoped that the play presents different viewpoints effectively.

Sharing what made him choose this subject, Shah informed India Narrative: “It is a really relevant issue in worldwide society. We also decided not to take sides, either which way, and provide ‘food for thought’ for the viewers.”