A Personal War- Stories Of The Mumbai Terror Attacks
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
August 15, 2010
Yesterday, I had one of the most profound moments in the theatre I have ever experienced. The show was nearing its end, and suddenly I stood up, and everyone around me stood, faster than is possible. So I find myself there standing, and I don't know why. There is a song playing and I look at the actors lined up onstage and the audience members around me and some of them are mouthing what I now realize is the Indian national anthem. Yesterday was Indian Independence Day. Yesterday was also the day that I became a better, more knowledgeable citizen of the world by seeing A Personal War.
A Personal War - Stories of the Mumbai Terror Attacks is playwright-director-actor Divya Palat's homage to those who died on 26/11—the day the terrorist attacks on India began in November of 2008. Joined by five other exceedingly talented actors, all from Mumbai, Palat educates us about the horrific incident through video projections and by following the lives of six characters leading up to, during, and after the attacks.
One by one, the characters come out to the chair positioned centerstage and introduce themselves, often quite humorously, by way of a monologue. A young lawyer regales us with his story of that time he and his best friend Tim, "or was it Tom?", well he and "Tim-Tom" got locked in a prison in Dubai and his dad had to bail him out and send him to a maximum security prison...his office. We meet a young mother with dreams of fashion and Bollywood, a love-struck, adorably shy young man who works at a call center, a waiter at the Taj Mahal Hotel, a news reporter, and Palat, as herself, who was out for a jog with her dog.
It is shameful how little I knew about the Mumbai terror attacks. I did not know the terrorists targeted the grandiose Taj Mahal Hotel, the Leopold Restaurant, and Trident Oberoi Hotel. I had not seen the powerful footage of gunmen, and blood and bodies. The video is powerful but does not overpower the stories of these characters, told simply through heartfelt monologues by first-rate actors. The waiter becomes a hero, the lawyer fights for his survival, the news reporter fights with her conscience and her boss over what is ethical and what is required by a news commentator in such a time. Palat does not know what to do other than watch the TV as the city—her city—comes under attack.
So I'm standing at the end of the performance, part of this beautiful community of strangers, and Palat, tears in her eyes, tells us that they have come all the way from Mumbai because they want to prove the we can be the change, that one voice does make a difference. That's why you need to see this show. Note that all proceeds go to the Mumbai Police Commissioner's Office.