As part of Diwali Fest, Brothel #9 comes to The Cultch through November 27. A young woman, Rekha, arrives in Calcutta and discovers she’s been sold to a pimp, Birbal, by her brother-in-law. Adjusting to this change isn’t easy, as we see through her initial interactions with an older prostitute Jamuna, but soon she comes to shape her own destiny and find inner liberty.
Every character felt so well developed, with fully constructed backstories that made them feel so real. Even though Salaudin (Shekhar Paleja) and Birbal (David Adams) are clearly antagonistic to Rekha (Adele Noronha), there were moments of connection that brought me closer to understanding their choices – or at least to feel for their desperation.
Noronha does a wonderful job of developing Rekha from the falsely confident, naive girl sold into a brothel to a strong, thoughtful, independent woman who makes decisions on her own and learns how to take care of herself. Her motivation was always clearly evident, and I immediately latched onto Rekha as the guiding light of Brothel #9. Her and Jamuna (Laara Sadiq) were both powerful forces, challenging each other through quiet exchanges.
This really resonated with me, especially the feelings of optimism and hopelessness I was left with. It was certainly a strange two emotions to try and balance, but the production never felt conflicted in its delivery. The choice not to include many moments of lightness to break up the subject matter was a wise one, allowing audiences to really sink their teeth into the heavy drama in front of them. Although the meaning of Bengali phrases were explained in the surrounding English dialogue, I do wish I knew what they were saying. If nothing else, just to understand some of the complexities I may have missed.
Photo credit: Tim Matheson