What happens when two lawyers, married to each other, find themselves on opposing sides of an attempted murder case in court? Do the educated, affluent, supposedly progressive couple keep it "strictly professional" or does the trial travel home and shed light on issues, until then invisible, creating tension?
Acclaimed Indian actor-director Nandita Das' play "Between the Lines" addresses gender inequality that's obvious and not so obvious. The play was staged at Radisson Blu Water Garden Hotel in Dhaka on November 13.
Das and her husband Subodh Maskara took on the roles of Maya and Shekhar who have been married for 10 years and have a son. This is a seemingly equal relationship. But then, Maya takes up her first case -- defending a woman who had shot her abusive husband. Shekhar, of course, is the prosecutor.
As the trial progresses, things between Maya and Shekhar start heating up as well. It starts off with Shekar dismissing his wife's judgment and sensibilities.
When it comes to gender violence and inequality, we always say "…it's the poor, uneducated people". The inequality there is glaring. But what about the inequality that's deeply woven in our social conditioning? What about the unfair deal that's considered "acceptable"? Who gets the bigger piece of chicken at home? Why are terms like "juggling" and "balancing" used when referring to a working woman, and not a man? Is a working wife/mother a circus performer?
One of my female friends at the show said, "I can immediately relate to this (play). You, as a man, probably won't."
She wasn't wrong. If for no other reason, I would call Das and the play successful because it made me think about what goes on unnoticed.
The play doesn't end on a pessimistic note though. The couple realise that they both need to work on their marriage. It doesn't give up on marriage.
Nandita Das, as an actor, doesn't need a seal of approval from me. This brilliant, beautiful, socially committed thespian has earned accolades in India and abroad. There were ample demonstrations of that brilliance in her monologues.
Her co-actor, Maskara, however seemed a tad rigid. There could be a number of reasons. The play has been written and directed by Das and although the tagline is "a relationship on trial", between the protagonists, Maya gets the better deal. The audience empathises with her. Also, according to the website of Chhoti Production Company (Das and Maskara's film and theatre initiative), "Maskara is an entrepreneur, who is on a sabbatical to pursue his creative passions."
The Dhaka show was presented by The City Bank Limited, and organised by Excalibur Entertainment and Jatrik.