Bangalore Mirror | Wrongful Death Foretold
The play recreates the story of Iranian rape victim Rayhaneh Jabbari who was executed for murdering her rapist
It was in October 2014 that 26-year-old Rayhaneh Jabbari, an Iranian woman, was executed for trying to defend herself against her alleged rapist, after spending seven years in prison, experiencing third degree torture. Jabbari's account of those years of her life will be recreated on stage by seven different women in a play titled 07/07/07.
The play, which premiered at the NCPA & Vinod and Saryu Doshi Foundation Centrestage Festival in December 2015, begins with the refrain of a haunting Persian song: I will go to the mountains to hunt a deer/ Where is my gun?/ You've written a love letter/ With the blood of your lover. It is an apt opening for a play about life, death and betrayal.
According to Jabbari's account, an aspiring interior designer, she was lured to the home of a man who attempted to rape her. In self-defense, she stabbed him and fled. He later died, and she was put in jail for seven years for murder. While imprisoned, she was initially denied a lawyer, tortured and thrown in solitary confinement. She was later hung, ironically, by the son of her alleged rapist. During her trial, she was accused of being many things, including a spy, a seductress, and a "bad Muslim".
Directed by Faezeh Jalali, the play is an ensemble piece devised by Mumbai's Fats theater company, from Jabbari's original written accounts, which she wrote just a few months before she went to the gallows. Jalali came across Jabbari's letters last December, when a friend of hers asked her to read them. The play is based on those 10 letters, the conversations Jalali had with Jabbari's mother and other research material gathered from friends and family. "There is a universal theme of justice and the prison system. When we were reading it, we could think of so many cases where people have been either wrongfully imprisoned or executed," Jalali says.
The play charts Jabbari's emotional journey, her struggle between reality and illusion, from the time she was imprisoned as a 19-year-old, when she still hoped to walk out free (she went back to studies inside prison to prepare for her life outside) to the point when she is not afraid of death anymore, and writes "death is like a change of clothes."
"For me, her understanding of life and death, her own transformation from a young girl to a woman with a wisdom beyond her years, which reflects in her writing, was really striking," Jalali says.
Created over six months, the play uses a minimal stage set-up to provide a visceral and engaging retelling of her story. A crowdfunding campaign for this production was launched on Ketto and has so far raised Rs 3.5 lakhs. For Jalali, a third generation Iranian herself, it was a journey within, which demanded the most from her, "Because I had a personal connection to it, since I am a Persian myself."
Jalali chose to depict Jabbari's life through those seven difficult years with seven different actors, to mitigate the focus from her as an isolated story, and rather present it as a tragic story that can belong to anyone. The seven women actors depict each stage of the Jabbari's emotional state - the child-like girl, the confused girl, the tortured woman, the fighter, the isolated woman, the animal in her to be free, and finally the one who is in peace with death. But, nowhere in this play do these phases demarcate themselves. The narrative oscillates lucidly between these emotions. The majority of the play is based inside the prison, with a stark and dull set-up with prison concrete floor.
"When the women use the chaadar, it is not in any religious or cultural context but to depict that the women have been covered by the justice system and want to break out of it," Jalaliw adds. The three men in the cast, too, take on different roles of rapist, judge, lawyer and others, to instill the idea that it could be any man
Jagriti is a Performance Arts space dedicated to Theatre, Music, Dance and Comedy. Founded in 2011 by Arundhati and Jagdish Raja, the space has hosted several productions from India and around the world. A 200-seat theatre, built around a full-thrust stage, it is fully equipped to cater to both artistes and audience. The main stage is designed for intimate performances with adjoining spaces for informal lectures and gatherings. Jagriti is owned and operated by the not-for-profit ART Foundation, a registered charitable trust.
The Rooftop - above the main auditorium is an open-to-sky space with a staging area that can accommodate about 50 people. A raised and walled off platform can work as a perfect area for puppet theatre. The Rooftop has a restroom and a pantry.
The Terrace - alongside the auditorium, the Terrace can accommodate about 20 people as an informal gathering area.
Lumbini - extending out from the foyer, Lumbini has a stage and an open-to-sky terraced space for about 80 people.