STAGE REVIEW: Pink Sari Revolution @ Northern Stage (02.11.17) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Pamela Raith

“Pink is the colour of the sky before the storm breaks”

Pink Sari Revolution is a cry of pain, a primordial howl of anger at injustice and hypocrisy. This incendiary play is based on a true story and is adapted from journalist Amana Fontanella-Khan’s book about Sampat Pal and her Gulabi Gang, a movement of over 400,000 women fighting for women’s rights in vivid pink saris.

The story focuses Sampat’s crusade to vindicate Sheelu Nishad, a 17 year old girl raped by a higher caste politician and falsely imprisoned, accused of theft by the politician and his family. A victim of patriarchal society and of the caste system – as a low caste Dalit woman, she is doubly damned – Sheelu’s case is irresistible to Sampat Pal, and she takes it upon herself to campaign for Sheelu’s freedom, in spite of Sheelu and whatever the cost.

The cast are compelling and engaging, in particular Syreeta Kumar as Sampat Pal, a dominating force of nature who illustrates so clearly the transformative effects of power and influence. Her passion for helping the women around her to cast off the cloak of shame that their society has bound them in drives her forward, soon becoming indistinguishable to her own personal craving for importance. Ulrika Krishnamurti displays a fierce vulnerability as Sheelu, utterly believable as an abused teenager, one moment curled into a protective, childlike coil, the next lashing out with pain and unfettered rage.

Syreeta Kumar by Pamela Raith

Given recent headlines regarding sexual harassment and the abuse of male power, Pink Sari Revolution reminds us that the abuse of women is an epidemic, occurring across our world, irrespective of industry, nationality, caste. The set is dominated by a sprawling, ominous tree, a metaphor perhaps for the deep roots of misogyny that dig deep into the ground beneath our feet. Violence against women, we are told, is woven into the fabric of this culture (and indeed many others); it is there in the rich threads of mythology, history and tradition, from the etymology of river names to the rituals of popular festivals. And it must be rooted out.

The play forces us to examine how we may be complicit in allowing these attitudes and behaviours to go unchecked, whether by turning a blind eye, in fear of the personal cost to our own comfort, or through participating in seemingly benign traditions that time and again position women as inferior, as powerless and subjugated. The play is eminently watchable, in parts deftly funny and in other parts, heart-rendingly sad. Ashington-born director Suba Das and playwright Purva Naresh have created a powerful piece of theatre that is provocative, engaging and timely.

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