Saturday Aug 24, 2013

Deadly Delhi gang-rape inspires award-winning playwright

NEW DELHI: Award-winning playwright Yael Farber, whose new work focuses on the fatal gang-rape of an Indian student last December, was inspired by the protests that erupted across the country after the attack.

"I remember feeling this extraordinary sense of envy when I looked at India... I mean -- who takes to the streets anywhere else in the world to speak for a young single woman?" the South African said in an interview.

Shocked by the attack, she posted about it on Facebook. Bollywood actress Poorna Jagannathan saw the post and invited her to India where the idea for a play about sexual violence began to take shape.

"Stories stay in public consciousness for a limited time, you have to grab that window," Farber said, explaining how she chose to write and stage the play just eight months after the assault.

The show premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and ends its run Monday.

"Nirbhaya", or "fearless", opened to rave reviews and won the Scotsman Fringe First award for outstanding new plays. Faber now has won the award three times.

The 42-year-old writer-director, raised in Johannesburg, told from Edinburgh she was struck by the public reaction to the rape.

"I remember wondering what it would take for us South Africans to get on to the streets like this, what it would take to penetrate the numbness -- what it would take to care," she said.

The name of the play, enacted in Hindi and English, comes from the pseudonym of the 23-year-old who was gang-raped and sexually assaulted with an iron rod, and whose fight for life captured the world's attention.

"Everyone was rooting for her to live. She testified twice (in hospital) despite her grave injuries, she demanded accountability from the system," Farber said.

"She challenged ideas the world over that rape victims should be quiet and feel a sense of shame about what they have endured. That's why her spirit ignited people."

Farber, who has won a string of best director awards in South Africa and whose work has been honoured elsewhere, is no stranger to visceral drama. Her plays often include personal testimonies from her cast.