At one point in Suba Das’ Pink Sari Revolution, lead character Sampat Pal (terrifically played by Syreeta Kumar) says “don’t be wishy-washy about rape” – it’s the pervading message in this adaptation of Amana Fontanella-Khan’s novel, a story of outdated attitudes and oppressed lifestyles.
Sampat is the leader of the Galabi Gang, a 400,000 strong army of liberals fighting for gender equality in Uttar Pradesh, with their attire consisting of fluorescent pink as it’s “the colour of the sky before the storm breaks”. She becomes interested in the case of Sheelu (Ulrika Krishnamurti), a 15-year old girl who has been raped by an upper-class male; knowing that the girl’s word alone means nothing in Indian society.
Sampat is the one outlier in a story full of pragmatists – in the play’s most thoughtful scene, Dr Sharma (Goldy Notay) explains why she refused to examine Sheelu at the time of her arrest, stating that an accurate report would be chucked out if it was harmful to the establishment. The strength of this scene highlights the shortcomings of the second act, in which too much time is spent documenting Sampat’s growing fame instead of the case itself – understandable given her domineering nature, but Sheelu’s case, unfortunately, becomes an afterthought at points.
This is partly down to Sampat’s growing selfishness, with the young girl believing that she is being used as a means to the make the leader famous. A credit to both Purva Navesh’s script and Kumar’s towering performance, Sampat is, on occasions, an irresistibly compelling character, being a maternal figure to struggling girls but also neglectful towards her own children. In one particularly striking piece of dialogue, Sampat’s daughter quips “she’s a hero to everyone she doesn’t know, it’s the people she knows that she struggles with”.
The intimate studio theatre at Leicester’s Curve facilitates a more personal experience, going in tandem with Isla Shaw’s minimalist set design. Dominating the stage is a large tree, a signifier of solidarity and resilience, but also one of despair as a body is seen hanging during the opening monologue. On occasion, thunder and lightning crack, an aural reminder of Sheelu’s and the Galabi Gang’s inner angst, growing by the day as the case becomes more convoluted.
The inner working of the judicial system is a topic that is never fully explored, meaning that first act hints of political intrigue are ultimately wasted. Thankfully, the ensemble of characters is well-realised, with the cast effortlessly switching from flashes of humour to full-blown arguments. If the explosiveness of these scenes was harnessed when attacking the Indian government, then Pink Sari Revolution might incite a more passionate response.