In conversation with Faezeh Jalali who has devised a piece on Reyhaneh Jabbari’s incarceration in Iranian prison. The piece will be staged during Maharashtra Cultural Centre’s Rang Mahotsav
Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged in October 2014. Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, an Iranian government official, invited the 19-year-old girl on July 7, 2007 to his apartment to discuss business. He tried to rape Reyhaneh who killed him in an act of self-defence. But she was sentenced to be executed in 2009 and five years later, Reyhaneh was sent to the gallows.
While in prison, she wrote letters, talking about her life, hopes and the crushing of her dreams. After her death, 10 of these letters were released and Mumbai-based theatre actor Faezeh Jalali was sent the links by her friend. Jalali read those links, met with Reyhaneh’s mum in Iran and decided to devise a piece on those letters. The piece, 07.07.07, has been produced by FATSTheArts.
Who was Reyhaneh?
“Based on the 10 parts, we created the play. We also needed to do research around it because in those parts you don’t get Reyhaneh’s entire story. So we had to learn about the rest of her life and put it all together. So from June-December 2015, we were researching her story,” says Jalali, who has directed the devised piece. The team didn’t have a script to start with, just the text of the letters, so they worked on those, trying to find out which images could match them, which could be the events and put them in a chronology to figure out her story. “So the script was written after the play was created,” she adds.
What did the letters reveal about Reyhaneh? Who was she as a person? “Reyhaneh’s mother is a theatre person and activist. And Reyhaneh was an interior designer, who also worked with theatre people. The letters that we worked on were written in the last part of her life. So the letters were very deep, very mature and also very painful. When you are reading her letters, it seems like she is speaking to you; you become her confidante. That’s why all the seven girls who are playing Reyhaneh could relate to her. Reyhaneh’s story could be anyone’s story — mine, yours or of any woman around us, irrespective of which part of the world we live in,” she explains.
The incident happened on July 7, 2007. So the team played on the number in the title. They also wanted to show the stages in the victim’s life — as a bright-eyed 19-year-old girl; the life-altering moment in the man’s flat; when she was taken to the prison; her battle with depression etc — which are portrayed by the seven women. While Reyhaneh was in prison, she also wrote about the lives of other women inmates who were imprisoned for petty crimes. Some committed suicides, some were executed. “Their stories too are a part of 07.07.07,” says Jalali.
The politics and legality
Reyhaneh had originally written 20 letters; but the remaining 10 have not been released by her mother, because they were to be produced in the international court. “When I met Reyhaneh’s mother a couple of years ago, she told me that the unpublished letters contain some information which she wants to use in the court. I wanted to invite her for our play, but at the moment her telegram and Facebook account are unreachable. I am not sure if we can take 07.07.07 to Iran either. But the point that we would like to make is about our judiciary and prison system. It’s not just about one country. Wherever there are prisons and solitary confinements, the victims face lot of turmoil. We want to address this issue,” Jalali says emphatically.
ST Reader Service
The English play 07.07.07 will be staged at Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruha, Tilak Road, 7.30 pm on January 31