Direction : Neeraj Shirvaikar, Sudip Modak
Writer : Sudip Modak
Cast : Swanandi Tikekar, Gururaj Awdhani, Sagar Athlekar, Sagar Athlekar, Sudeep Modak, Namrata Kadam and Sumeet Raghavan


Deepa Punjani

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It takes gumption to pick a dark crime novel and hope that your audience will not balk. Adaptation is key to these uncommon endeavours. This is what a resourceful Sudeep Modak achieves with Stieg Larsson's prominent novel 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'. Apart from adapting the novel to a Marathi play script, he is also co-director with Neeraj Shirvaikar and acts in the play as well. The duo has ably directed what could be best described as a smart and clever rendering of the original with no doubt its accessibility in mind, first and foremost.

The plot revolves around the mystery disappearance of a young woman twenty years ago, when the play opens. After running a thorough background check, her uncle enlists the service of an atypical journalist whom he believes may be ideal to help given the circumstances of the case. When the journalist is joined by a cyber whiz, again an unusual young woman in all respects, things get racier. Anything said further would ruin the mystery.

Some of the best crime fiction writing has emerged from Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway. The crimes are as chilling as the extreme winters these countries experience. A reader would also notice that the well of human psychology with its muck runs deep, even in these pristine and advanced settings. It is famously said of places that they are best gleaned by their crimes, which is also to say that the crimes are often inexorably tied to their social contexts. How does one then import characters so rooted in their context and their circumstances?

Modak and Shirvaikar have ingeniously intertwined women's safety (given the rising media attention post the Delhi rape case in 2012) and the crux of the original narrative founded on the abuse of religion (read patriarchy). In bringing the ancient Vedic lawgiver Manu's tenets to the fore of a modern day crime, the play underpins the extremities and parochialism of Hindu society that not only continue to this day but which have also returned with a vengeance in our times. So indeed it is a dark and cold place where women continue to be second-class citizens and in Manu's own estimate, no better than dogs.

Sumeet Raghvan who plays the journalist is the play's top billing given his popularity. Swanandi Tikekar, who has been inspired by the title of the novel, and plays the cyber geek, is more contained than the original edgy and complex character with a tough past. Her persona in every way is a counterpoint to the accepted norms of femininity. She has complete agency. In the adaptation, her bold individuality is still being explored, and yet is remarkable for moving away from the prototypes of women characters found otherwise.

The adaptation is also characteristic of the more usual tropes found in other professional Marathi plays (in this case the man Friday/Secretary) who provides an outlet for humour, yet it manages to be unsettling enough in its consequences as the second act unfolds. EK SHUNYA TEEN must be watched for its elements of thrill underscored by a grim world of men and their outrages against women.

*Deepa Punjani is the editor of this website.

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