Staying true to the source

Delhi-based actor, director and theatre coach Vidushi Mehra, who is presenting Harold Pinter’s 'Betrayal' in Mumbai this week, was fascinated by the universality of its theme
Staying true to the source
Staying true to the source

When English playwright Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal premiered in 1978, it shocked the audiences of the day—both for its scandalous theme and its departure from a traditional theatrical format. Delhi-based actor, director and theatre coach Vidushi Mehra, who is presenting Betrayal in Mumbai this week, was fascinated by the universality of its theme. 

“I found it relatable. I felt the subject has never been portrayed in this way before—why does disloyalty only happen when you truly love someone?” she says. The hour-long English play was performed in Delhi from February 24-26.

In keeping with Pinter’s absurdist leanings, the play happens in reverse, beginning from a poignant meeting between ex-lovers two years after the end of their extramarital affair, moving back in time through years of cheating, and ending on the night the affair began. Gallerist Emma, her publicist husband Robert, and his best friend and the wife’s paramour—literary agent Jerry—form a triangle of duplicity that explores the boundaries of love and friendship, and the various ways in which we betray those whom we love the most.

The subject of infidelity is sensitive, yet Pinter underpins dialogues with humorous innuendos infusing a sense of reality into every scene. The three actors—Oroon Das, Samar Sarila and Mehra herself—in the play attempt to stay true to this theme with Das’s mastery over his layered character of the husband being most pronounced. Mehra lets the tears flow as the cheating wife, Das displays palpable anguish, and Sarila, portraying her lover, remains aptly aloof from the effect of his betrayal on his best friend whom he is cuckolding.

“I’ve always found Pinter a bit elusive, and hoped to decode him as I grew older. With this play, 

I feel I’ve finally understood him. I get the sense that he’s almost poking fun at worldly life with his edginess. He has the luxury as the writer to posit people in the most archetypal settings which are relatable. It’s almost cruel how he reveals us to ourselves,” says Das.

 A major logistical challenge the team faced at the last minute was when the original actor playing Jerry walked out just days before opening night. Sarila, with whom Mehra has acted a number of times, immediately stepped in. He says, “Memorising the lines was difficult, but perhaps the toughest part of the play was mastering the nuances in the reversed chronology. Every scene mirrors every other scene, so understanding the many layers of the characters is tough.”

With talk of the play going round the country to reach a wider audience, Das summarises the appeal of Pinter in general and of Betrayal in particular, “The truth is that everyone has been betrayed and is betraying someone, but you don’t always see it. Pinter is a master playwright who confounds your own moral compass.”

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