The tragedy of Partition leaves a haunting impression in this page to stage adaptation.
When Akshita Nanda debuted her first novel last year, little did we expect to see it receive a stage adaptation just a year later. Directed by Edith Podesta, the staged reading may not be a full production, but still manages to mostly capture the essence of the original novel, trimming out material to focus more keenly on the relationship between the two protagonists, and bring their issues and backstories out in full.
Featuring an all female, all minority cast, Nimita’s Place follows two parallel narratives – the first, with microbiologist Nimita Sachdev in the 2010s adapting to life in Singapore as she escapes an arranged marriage in India, and the second, following her grandmother Nimita Khosla, in 1940s India as she is torn from her dream of university to be married off instead, as the unimaginable horror of Partition looms over India.
For the staged reading, Nimita’s Place has been reworked for dramatic effect, rearranging and cutting down the content and words from the original novel to focus the work on both Nimita’s relationships with each other. Gone are Nimita Sachdev’s housing woes, obsession with food and her Singaporean friends – instead, we zoom in on her interactions with her potential suitor, an app developer from India. As Sachdev, Mehr Dudeja offers star-quality potential in her performance, confident and clear in her enunciation as she reads off snarky yet hilarious lines in her attempts to brush him off. Later on, as the violent incident leading to Sachdev’s emigration is revealed, Dudeja reveals a powerful, aching vulnerability to her performance that leaves us wanting to see even more of what this young actress can do in future.
Meanwhile, Namrata Juneja, as Nimita Khosla, brings us through the difficulties of being a woman in 1940s India, and we feel for her as we watch her dreams snatched away from her, sinking deeper into a life so far removed from what she knows as Partition takes over. Like the original novel, the disparity in weight between both Nimitas’ storylines is still evidently unbalanced, and made even clearer with this staging, due to director Edith’s choice to incorporate more inspired staging during the Partition sequences. The cast dips and washes their hands in buckets of water to create a liquid soundscape, while horrific, monochrome footage of Partition is projected onscreen as Khosla speaks.
Rather ironically though, one of the most memorable parts of the reading ends up being a recount from Nimita Khosla’s husband, overshadowing the trauma both Nimitas face with a descriptive account of an arduous trek home while on the run, fighting for his survival each and every day and constantly on the brink of death. It is odd that this account seems to have been given the most attention and care with its staging, within the context of N.O.W. as a female-fronted programme and how it involves neither of our protagonists.
Nevertheless, throughout Nimita’s Place, one is made aware of the relationship between both Nimitas, with Dudeja and Daisy Irani (as Khosla in the present day) sharing good onstage chemistry when they share moments together. Irani, as the voice of reason in Nimita Sachdev’s head, delivers a sage-like portrayal of Nimita Khosla, and doubling as the narrator of the piece, grants each word she speaks filled with gravitas and sincerity that makes her lines shine, a pillar of strength amidst the pain and prejudice that we feel throughout the reading.
One would of course, still recommend the book for a complete idea of Akshita Nanda’s rich descriptions and portrayals of Singapore and India. However, there is value in Nimita’s Place: Staged Reading as a lively adaptation that knows exactly what it wants to do, leaving audience members aware of the horrors of Partition, yet leaving them with hope that things do get better, given the willingness of women to stand together and find solidarity and comfort in each other to allow them space from their respective traumas to heal.
Performance attended 27/7/19 (Evening)
Nimita’s Place: Staged Reading played from 26th to 27th July 2019 at 72-13 as part of Theatreworks’ N.O.W. 2019.
N.O.W. 2019 ran from 10th to 28th July 2019 at 72-13. For the full lineup of programmes, visit the website here