An old tree stands centre-stage and remains in place for the duration of the play. A symbol of immovability, resilience, strength – the perfect embodiment of Sampat Pal, a true revolutionary, and a fighter for equality. Pink Sari Revolution is a remarkable study of an important figure of recent human history, one of which this play will help cement into the minds of many.
Sampat Pal is responsible for one of the world’s most remarkable feminist movements, the Gulabi Gang. There are over 400,000 members, of which are all visibly unified by the unique trademark of a pink sari. Originating in rural India, the gang have done all in their power to promote and enforce human rights in the absence of compassion. This play, based on a true story, highlights the tale of a young girl, Sheelu (Ulrika Krishnamurti), who is raped and put into prison under the condemnation of theft. Hearing of this injustice, Sampat (Syreeta Kumar) immediately descends onto the police station and demands to speak with her. After an engrossing exchange, she decides that she must defy incredible odds and fight for the justice of not just Sheelu, but to take a stand against gender inequality everywhere. “Every girl is part of the movement”, she exclaims, and after such a magnificent telling of this important tale, every audience member tonight has joined the pink sari revolution.
Dealing with crucial themes of domestic violence, shame, judgement and conscience is hard to make entertaining while remaining respectful of such relevant subject matter. After an introductory monologue, the lights come up to reveal the body of a dead woman hanging from a tree. This bleak and powerful imagery is mirrored in the second act; a sickening conversation between two police officers is anchored by the presence of a doll hanging in the same space. It is cyclical, beginning both acts in this way is a reminder to the audience that the suffering of women at the hands of these actions, in this case taking place literally right-stage, is recurring. It will continue if a revolution for change does not occur. This exemplifies just one of the ways that the set is used to great dramatic effect. For instance, one particular scene in which Sheelu is in her prison cell, red cracks seer up through the floor – this is unmistakably a female hell. Emblematic visual implications such as this really enhance the incredible performances given by the entire cast. There are fluent, naturalistic monologues throughout that provide support of solid improvisational sessions that will have taken place over many workshops. The range of well-observed characters convey a juxtaposition of oppositional beliefs and denials in compelling fashion, and they use the space well to assert visual representations of hierarchical relationships.
It is a play of acute observations; a woman raped by not just a man, but additionally by society and the system. Sampat Pal was born into a low-caste, oppressive society in which girls can be forced to become women in a matter of seconds. Although she is a character that has married her children off at a young age, she has ensured their education and that they are safe and taken care of. She provides for them, and the play’s creators understand her as not just a heroine but as a human being, with imperfections and contradictions intact. It is rare that women are written as flawed but strong and magnificent heroines in theatre – this play does exactly that, and it is very important.
Sampat is recognised as complex and drastic in her moral decisions, choosing to balance between vigilante and welfare. It is this uncompromising attitude that assured her revolution be met with success. Even among her significant decisions, the conversations she has with others are orchestrated heartily, comedically, and most importantly, thoughtfully. A humorous scene in which members of the group are taught how to call men names is hilariously realised, whereas the image of five women empowered wearing pink saris under the illuminating replication of moonlight is eerily beautiful. A mix of emotions and provocations are hoisted onto the audience, as they are urged to ponder a society of victims paraded as criminals in benefit of the rich who fear exposure; a society of duties, duties that distract the weak to do nothing.
When Sampat visits the police station, she brings with her two-hundred dogs. The dogs, symbolic of loyalty, foreshadow the movement that captured attention around the globe, of a social activist that demands there is no such thing as violation – only rape. With excellent use of costuming, make-up, and great integration of subtle audience address, Pink Sari Revolution is thought-provoking, socially relevant, and thrillingly theatrical.