A very strong theme of war refugees encountering two counsellors from the ‘normal’ world with immense possibilities in terms of inter-personal dynamics, psychological insights possibly being interwoven into the script and the prospect of seeing 7 women on stage at once, all backed by a name like Suchitra CFD and Prakash Belawadi, and you know that you have to go and watch the play.
And it doesn’t disappoint.
The set consisted of two-levels, the lower level depicting a refugee camp with its tent, barbed wire and a cloth backdrop adding to the feel of the stage being a part of a camp stretching over a large area and seemingly sheltering many refugees. The tent was just a pyramidal bamboo structure with no canvas over it so that the audience could see the scenes plotted inside the tent very clearly. The upper level of the set was used to depict a psychiatric clinic where the play begins and ends. The lights by Arun Murthy lit the refugee camp beautifully to indicate day, nightfall and to generally give a sense of melancholia when required by the context. The sounds accentuated the emotions in various scenes even further.
I’ll turn to the play’s poster to explain what the play is about:
Five women in a refugee camp are recovering from war and all that that means to civilians and particularly women. A mixture of ages and backgrounds, they are here waiting, and trying to survive. Two foreign women, one a psychiatrist with twenty-five years of affluent private practice behind her, the other a young counsellor determined to write a book on 'women in war', are flown in to help them... To help. Does 'talking' help? Does making a story public heal a private pain? The two professionals, with conflicting attitudes, are pushed to their own limits in this confrontation.
NECESSARY TARGETS is not about war, but the aftermath of war, when 'we' who have suffered encounter 'them', who want to help. Or is it when 'we' who want to help encounter 'them', who have suffered?
Starting from the opening scene where the very composed clinical therapist JS interviews the young trauma counsellor Melissa, the contrast between their personalities and approaches was brought out well by the two actors. The actors playing refugees were also good, each bringing out their character and its trauma well. Be it madness brought on by mental trauma, the pain of being forced to trade normal prosperous lives for those of refugees, loss of loved ones – even if they are domestic animals that mean everything to an old lonely woman, loss of love – war trauma bringing a man to physically abuse his wife, being stuck in an ethnic no man’s land with mixed descent leaving one on neither side of the border, or the fact that in the face of all human wrongs it is after all humanity that has stood by people, the emotions were exhibited well by the actors. The script allowed each character to reach its personal peak of emotional intensity at separate points and gave enough scope for individual performances to show distinctly. And yet it remained a story of 7 women who were trying to help each other. Who was helping whom more is something that must be found out by watching the play.
The production had just one flaw for me though. The accents. Each actor, it seemed, had been allowed to keep her natural accent and that resulted in 7 distinct accents being doled out to the audience. The context of the play was universal and would apply to any war-torn community or a community that has suffered tragedy together. Yet, the primary differences that the characters would have would possibly be those of education or background (rural/urban). Other than the two psychiatrists, the 5 refugees were presumably from the same nation or at the most from two sides of the same border. There would always be a common thread running through the characters in a situation like that even if they had distinct backgrounds and personalities. I didn’t find that thread. The characters could have very well been from 7 different nations in this case, the accents ranging from heavily South-Indian to American, ‘Somewhere-in-Europe’-an and all that lies in between. It jarred the experience for me. In fact, most of the time I couldn’t understand Jelena’s lines, which were recited in an accent very different from the others (almost too polished for a country-girl) and in an almost poem-like fashion, and had to only approximate the context catching on words here and there.
Thankfully the emotions dominated the script for most part and their intensity made it easier to lose oneself in the story for most part. I cried during more than one scene and the entire credit goes to the cast and the director for giving me an intense experience of Necessary Targets. The script could have been stronger with all the stories getting equal weightage in terms of treatment but this production did wonders with what the script limited it to.
What itches me right now is that the curtain call had no introductions of the actors and no leaflets were handed out about the play earlier too. What a pity, no names to pin to such strong performances. For the extremely challenging form of art that theatre is in its immediacy and vicinity to the audience, for the energy/power that actors can (and in this production did) communicate to the audience, I think all actors deserve their due. While I agree that theatre is very different from films in India, which probably are actor-driven in appeal than director-driven, I think as tools that the director uses to get a play across to the audience the actors definitely need to be given their credit. For now I’ll have to remember these performances by the character-names and I am not quite liking that.
Anyway, Suchitra CFD’s Necessary Targets is a must watch for wonderful acting and a treatment of the subject that leaves one shaken a little. The strongest thought brought out in the play dwells on the beauty of human relationships in all their complexity, of the human need to connect and be part of a web. It is almost exhilarating to watch this production and see that thought being depicted so beautifully on stage. Strongly recommended.
Cast & Crew:
Sharanya Ramprakash, Maggy Jacqmin , Maya Girish, Sheila Govindraj, Spatica Ramanujam , Padmavathi Rao and Siri Ravikumar.
Lights: Arun Murthy
Assistant Direction: Helen Haywood
Production Manager: Nikhil Bharadwaj
Design & Direction: Prakash Belawadi