Curtain Call

A Zoom play on sexual violence emphasises complexity and public complicity

The chorus poses yes-or-no questions to each other and the audience, using Zoom's poll feature. Courtesy Mallika Taneja
30 April, 2021

“And what colour bra were you wearing?” her friend asks. That’s not relevant, she argues, and besides, she doesn’t remember. When she finally answers, if only to dispel the mounting tension, the atmosphere shifts. The motley chorus that was, until a few moments ago, dancing to the Bollywood classic “Choli ke Peechhe kya hai?”—What’s Behind the Blouse?—is now passing judgement. Does it matter that her bra was red? Is it wrong for her to want to look sexy for herself? For someone else? Does she make for a “good” rape victim? Is a feeling the same as a fact? These are some of the questions the chorus poses, first to each other and then to you. You get 15 seconds to answer yes or no, and find out the vote tallies only at the end.

At a time when cases of sexual violence are typically met with victim-blaming and side-taking, Allegedly, an interactive play on the video-conferencing app Zoom by the Delhi-based theatre artist Mallika Taneja, emphasises complexity and public complicity. Staged six times since December last year, the play revolves around a conversation between two unnamed women. One of them narrates an incident of stealthing—non-consensual condom removal during sexual intercourse—that happened to her sixteen years ago, while the other takes notes in order to write about it for the world to read.

During breaks in their conversation, which resembles a well-meaning interrogation, a chorus, standing in for the general public, takes their place. Chorus members express a range of views and raise questions about consent, believability, memory, truth and justice, some of which are posed to the audience using Zoom’s poll feature. As the questions become increasingly difficult to answer, you realise that a quick yes-or-no answer simply will not suffice, and that your position may vary greatly from one question to the next.