Aruna’s Story, directed by Arvind Gaur, is an adaptation of journalist Pinki Virani’s non-fiction book of the same name. Performed in a beautiful solo act by Lushin Dubey, this touching play is the real-life story of the brutal rape case of Aruna Shanbaug, the Indian nurse who later became the centre of attention in a court case on euthanasia. “It’s such an important piece of work because of what we are dealing with – sexual harassment, rape, sexual violence, and where we are at right now with regards to the judiciary, the law makers, police and where we need to get from here,” says Raell Padamsee, producer of the play. The play begins with Sohanlal Walmiki’s assault on Shanbaug. The et resembles a hospital, with iron rods erected on the stage to symbolise a cage. Under the neon blue light, Shanbaug struggles with her attacker as he strangles her with a chain used to tame dogs, then rapes her.
Focus is a must
It is Lushin’s debut in Mumbai and amidst the atmosphere of sexual allegations, she feels it is more relevant than ever. What’s more, she is playing 18 roles in Aruna’s Story; definitely a challenge. “I must admit that if you lose concentration for even a nano second, you go blank. I’ve got to be right there in the moment all the time because each moment has to be perfect,” avers Lushin. Each character is in different spaces in terms of body language, what they are saying and the emotions. “Even though I had done five solos, this was my toughest. One, because I feel a lot for her, for Dr Desai, so I got to capture real moments here. I just can’t fake it. If I made you cry even a bit, if I made you feel for this woman, then I’ve delivered,” she declares. In order to deliver, one has to be very honest with each and every character and not just with Aruna’s, to touch a chord. “It’s a very demanding role,” adds Lushin, “because I cannot rely on the next actor to help me out or to save me. It’s like a tapasya.”
Lushin loved playing Dr Desai as she feels he had a lot of heart, integrity and soul which not many men have in this present era. “Sticking by the side of Aruna for years shows some mettle and grit in a man. Of course, he cried and felt a lot of pain for her but that’s what the book is about where he’s talking to Aruna and talking for her. And where are men like that today?” asserts Lushin.
Leaving her mark
Aruna sparked a profound re-examination of the very right to life and death with dignity. Lushin decided that at the end of the scene she would speak as if Aruna was speaking after her death. She says to the audience that at least a few things came out of Aruna’s life – a book and the laws. Lushin says, “Remember those words ‘I hope this helps if there’s a next time’. It enunciated three different meanings – ‘It’s the next time’, ‘Will there be a next time?’ and ‘A next time’ – meaning there shouldn’t be a next time.” Arun was a catalyst for the changes that followed. “I’d see her as a martyr who left behind a road of progressive change.”