‘Bitter Chocolate’: A Story of Child Sex Abuse That Horrifies You
‘Bitter Chocolate’ at the end of it, is a powerful rendition of a very real reality.
‘Bitter Chocolate’ at the end of it, is a powerful rendition of a very real reality.(Photo Courtesy: HAQ – Centre for Child Rights)

‘Bitter Chocolate’: A Story of Child Sex Abuse That Horrifies You

A woman, clad in blue and white salwar kameez, resplendent as the spotlight hits her – marking her out from the sea of theatregoers who watch – takes the stage and bows. Within seconds though, she is gone and in her place, stands a mutton-chopped ‘policeman’ laughing at and scorning the family of a child rape survivor. Snap, and “he’s” vanished, “his” place taken by a defence counsel berating the same child for lying about how her father has been making her watch “dirty films” and then “doing dirty things” to her. There are more snaps and more disappearances – and before you know it, all eight “characters” in Bitter Chocolate have coalesced to form one horrifying image of child sex abuse in India.

The woman at the centre of it all is theatre artiste Lushin Dubey, who – through one striking 55-minute performance – plays victim(s) and perpetrator, policeman and psychiatrist, family member, counsel and politician. Through those 55 minutes, it is Lushin – and Lushin alone – who takes you through an entire journey of sexual abuse, without ever actually calling it that, but leaving it implied to absolutely horrified imaginations.

The woman at the centre of it all is theatre artiste Lushin Dubey, who gives one striking 55-minute performance.
The woman at the centre of it all is theatre artiste Lushin Dubey, who gives one striking 55-minute performance.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube screenshot)

A Theatre of Awful Truths

Sample this:

In one particularly poignant scene, Lushin who plays ‘Otto’, a yoga guru in a boys’ school, bedecked from head to toe in stark orange – complete with turban on head – teaches meditation to a bunch of students. When one of the boys claims he cannot concentrate and cannot “see” what the meditation is supposed to make him “see”, Otto leads him by the hand, deliberately, to a room at the back.

There is, of course, no boy and no other students actually in the scene, as Dubey simulates all her other characters – but you cannot help but cringe and look away as you hear Otto order the boy to take off his clothes and lie flat on his stomach so that he can “meditate” the right way. As Otto simulates the entire rape, you half-watch, half-flinch as every word that he now speaks is punctuated by guttural gasps and groans till he decides he is done with his victim. It is, without a doubt, the single most difficult thing to watch in the play.
Dubey plays eight characters on stage.
Dubey plays eight characters on stage.
(Photo Courtesy: HAQ: Centre for Child Rights)

The Eclipsing of a Rape

Bitter Chocolate (which is adapted by director Arvind Gaur from Pinki Virani’s bestselling book by the same name) moves through a crescendo of activities – all apparently disjointed, but all of which bizarrely, seem to make sense. Dubey starts by play-acting as an irate defence counsel for a rapist, chiding an 11-year-old girl for reporting a ‘false rape’ story and poking holes in her account. Before you’ve had time to absorb all the details, you are whisked away to a seedy thana where you watch as a loquacious constable guffaws on the phone and assures an apparent abuser that “it will all be taken care of” and wouldn’t he like to come down for masala chai and biscuits?

The masala chai and biscuits are offered to eclipse the story of rape. The mother who brings her frightened child to a psychiatrist who informs her sternly that it appears her own son has been raping her daughter also attempted to eclipse this rape. The politician who, through regular thoo-thoos of paan juice, tells her community that “ladkiya jean-pant pehenenge to aisa hi hoga na” (if girls wear jeans, this is bound to happen) is also attempting to eclipse that rape.

The masala chai and biscuits are offered to eclipse the story of rape.
The masala chai and biscuits are offered to eclipse the story of rape.
(Photo Courtesy: HAQ: Centre for Child Rights)

None of that eclipses the sobs though, as projectors on the left and right of Dubey sound out the most heart-rending cries and let the audience watch the shadow of a boy – then a girl – clutching his/her knees to his/her chest to stop the perpetrator in some tiny, futile way.

‘Bitter Chocolate’ at the end of it, is a powerful rendition of a stark reality. It is a play you must watch, of course – that’s par course. But it is also a play you must stop over-familiarising with.

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