Theatre Review: Nirbhaya

Hard-hitting, powerfully poignant work of art, recounting real-life events of horrific abuse

Posted: 24.05.15

On 16th December 2012, a horrific incident touched and changed the lives of many worldwide. Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23 year old medical student, was brutally gang raped on a bus in Delhi and left for dead on the street. So severe were her injuries that 13 days later, she died in hospital. When I heard about the details of the injuries and extent of the abuse she sustained, I felt sickened and disturbed – this level of barbarism was unbelievable. Similarly, the world was completely outraged by the inhumanity of the crimes committed that night and subsequently, people took to the streets and protested in the masses for Nirbhaya – the fearless one. Jyoti’s father divulged that he wanted the world to know who is daughter was, as she did nothing wrong, but was indeed fearless and he was proud of her – she caused him no shame. The global spotlight was suddenly on India, exposing an alarming and longstanding rate of rape and abuse in the country. Due to the perseverance, resilience and courage of Jyoti and her family, the veil of secrecy and shame was also lifted of so many victims who had endured terrible abuse – there would be no more suffering in silence. 

It was these series of events that led to director Yaël Farber initiating Nirbhaya, which recounts Jyoti’s tragedy, from the carefree moments leading up to the incident, the harrowing events that followed, and ending with the chillingly sombre scene of her funeral rites, which deliberately paid attention to every painstakingly emotive detail of laying the deceased to rest, leaving the audience with the consolation that she was finally at peace. Interwoven amidst the beginning, middle and end of Jyoti’s saga were personal accounts retold by 5 victims, detailing their own experiences of dismal abuse. Each of the 5, Priyanka Bose, Poorna Jagannathan, Sneha Jawale, Rukhsar Kabir and Pamela Sinha, delivered outstanding, heartrending performances, assisted by one male actor, Ankur Vikal who did a fine job at switching from perpetrator to saviour. Each performer stood up from the audience, hand defiantly held up in the air and walked onto the stage, emphasising the idea that what happened to these women could happen to any one of us. This further highlighted the human and real edge to the whole production.


The opening scene of Jyoti wandering the minimal but stark set, singing Chalte Chalte in haunting, short bursts of shrill melody by the wonderfully talented singer/actor Japjit Kaur, made my hairs stand on end. The classical romantic lyrics: 'Chalte chalte, yunhin koi milgaya tha, sare rah chalte chalte' had a whole new meaning, which chilled me. It was moments like these that stay with you long after the end of the play. The inspirational spirit of Jyoti is felt throughout, with each actor given an intimate prop by her which is somehow linked to their story, adding some imagery and accentuating the poignancy.

The performers honoured Jyoti as their inspiration to be Nirbhaya as she had also been, to no longer suffer in silence and not to feel ashamed of another person’s crime, but to speak out and embrace life with head held high. The depiction was artfully done, and although the choreography and movement on stage lends itself to the essence of the message, the power itself lies within the personal, honest and emotionally driven words uttered. Every dialogue spoken was enriched with a myriad of emotions including passion, aggression, anger and defiance in a superbly poetic manner, which was all imbibed with one constant thing – their unbreakable spirit.

As each traumatic narrative unfolded whilst valiantly looking each member of the audience in the eye, one felt a sincere connection with each of them by the end of the performance, along with a feeling of admiration at their strength, naturally leading to a credible standing ovation and heartfelt appreciation for such a refreshing production.

Watching Nirbhaya is bearing witness to a powerful, gripping, urgent and relevant masterpiece, much needed to empower females the world over, as it succeeds as a hugely significant outcry for women’s rights.

Watch Nirbhaya at the Alchemy Festival on 24th May 2015 
Find out more about Nirbhaya here

Fariha Sabir

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