How does one fit into the shoes of the protagonist in a play about the history of forced prostitution by the Japanese during the Second World War? “By being a woman, before being an actor”, says Gargee Dutta, who has been nominated for the Best Actor in a Lead Role (Female) at the 13th edition of Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) 2018, which takes place later this month.
As many as 200,000 women were forced into prostitution, brutally beaten, raped and held as prisoners by the Japanese military during the war. They were commonly referred to as “comfort women”, also the title of the play that Dutta stars in.
Her role in Comfort Women is that of a girl named Sarengla — a simple village girl residing in a small hamlet somewhere in the Tangkhul hills on the Indo-Burmese border. Her marriage is fixed with her lover Rishang, who is also from the same village. In the meantime, another villager, Vedisili, who is on good terms with the Japanese, tries to lure Serengla to the other side with the intention of selling her.
When she refuses, she is taken by the Japanese Army and is forced into prostitution, resulting in her losing her lover, Rishang, who refuses to accept her.
“The play is about the trauma that she has to go through every night during her days as a comfort woman,” Gargee said.
How exactly did Dutta, who has been felicitated with the Young Artist Scholarship by India’s Ministry of Culture, go about preparing herself to fit into the shoes of Sarengla?
“Being a woman before being an actor — it is extremely painful for me to get attached as well as to detach myself from the character. The transformation of a girl who romanticises youth in the spring of her life to the character who is forced to become a comfort woman, the trauma of failure, to escape from the cruel hands of Japanese Army — to finally escape only to be rejected by the villagers and her lover.
“I had to constantly discuss my character with the director to prepare for my role. I also watched documentaries on comfort women and consulted psychiatrists to get into the mind and psyche of Sarengla. I also had to study the mannerisms of a woman from that era by watching videos and studying them on the internet,” Gargee elaborated.