Edinburgh Fringe 2009
A Personal War (Stories of the Mumbai Terror Attacks)
Balancing Act Productions
Venue: Laughing Horse at the Hive
This is a simple play that has come out of the devastating attack on Mumbai in November last year. Created by Divya Palat, and playing herself in the play, this is naturally a very personal piece. Theatrically, it falls short of engaging us much, and relies too much on the actors. It could be so much better with better direction. Nevertheless, it is well written and an important piece particularly for the people of India.
The story is told from the personal accounts of seven people who were in Mumbai near to, or actual victims of the attack. They begin by telling us individually of themselves and gradually of where they were when it happened. There is only ever one person on stage, and in between we witness real news footage and photographs with sound effects and music. Each character is different: A waiter at the Taj Hotel which was partly set on fire, a young call centre operative on a first date in the Leopold Cafe which was sprayed with bullets, a vacuous actress, a son who was dining with his father and uncle at the Oberoi hotel when he was shot, a woman visiting the city, a news reporter and the writer herself who witnessed the horror on television as it was happening nearby.
The characters are mostly well defined and the acting is fine, delivered rather formally and never descending into sentimentality which would have been awkward for all involved. They all start out happy and light as if before the event. This is their chance to engage and involve us, but as we are a Western audience we obviously don’t feel that particular sense of collective bereavement. To counter this they could have been more immediate and direct with their monologues, as apart from the subject material, their characterizations aren’t interesting enough by themselves.
Probably because they didn’t want to revisit the horror, we are not really brought into the event through the obvious medium of sound either. The rather clumsy multimedia is accompanied by some sound effects of gunshots and aural news footage, but it isn’t used nearly enough- as soon as a character comes back on stage, the media stops and the further we go on the more difficult it is to sustain interest in the characters. Accompanying sound would have helped a lot, for instance continuous, low noise would have far improved the sense of threat and realism.
And why are no scenes actually played out? The news reporter for instance is forced to mime talking to people on the street which exposes her unnecessarily, and the man describing the Cafe shooting was with his date. Without being crass, there could have been scenes concentrating on the smaller acts of heroism and humanity, two or more actors actually interacting in multiple roles would have been far more interesting and immediate.
It is well written however, each character is clearly defined, yet some of what we are told is irrelevant – we aren’t going to laugh at a person telling us about someone else’s annoying habits, for instance, unless we have had time to get to know the person.
This is obviously a very important show for Indians, and indeed the writer has bravely produced a dramatization of an event which still very raw. For now perhaps, simple, personal stories are the furthest the production team wanted to go, yet with more work this could be a powerful play.