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Naatak ‘s The Pillowman has strong performances

Martin McDonagh’s black comedy, The Pillowman’s South Asian adaptation is masterfully crafted by Harish Agastya and Naatak’s stellar cast. McDonagh is a master of dark comedy, and this play will have you laughing at and with its characters who tell stories of abuse, torture, and gruesome violence. Don’t expect a light-hearted play, Agastya has coaxed some strong, intense performances.

“The play is set in an unnamed police state but is very relevant to most countries in the world today where it is easier than ever for words to provoke violence. Take for example the Capitol riots in the US, or the Hindu tailor Kanhaiya Lal, who was murdered by two Muslim assailants in Udaipur, in 2022. To this day, books are banned or burnt on that pretext by self-appointed moral police,” says director Harish Agastya.

The Pillowman unfolds like a puzzle

The action on stage unfolds in an interrogation room in an unnamed totalitarian dictatorship. Katuria/Katurian, a writer, is being interrogated. The scene shows him in a flashback as a young boy and a young man (Abhi Wadekar and Kartic Bhargav), being interrogated by two detectives, Topaki/ Tupolski (Ekta Brahmkshatri) and Arial (M Zishan.) Next door, Katurian’s mentally disabled brother Michal (Ankit Dhingra) waits. The detectives want to know why Katurian’s stories feature gruesome plots about child (Ayesha Javehrani) murder and torture. In particular, why they seem to mirror a string of recent child murders in the area.

The play unfolds like a puzzle with multiple solutions or perhaps no solution. I would recommend letting the layers of deceit and interpretative red herrings just wash over you. Don’t try to “solve” the puzzle or overthink it. Let yourself be led along by Agastya’s brilliant directing and storytelling as he ties the artist and the audience into a spellbinding journey. 

What is unique about this play that I found fascinating is that there are eight stories vying for your attention. “The narration of the writer’s stories is central to the play. I decided to support the narration of the 8 stories in the play with a diverse collection of animations (2D animation, stop motion, shadow, charcoal sketches, etc.) and it took a village to put those together,” adds Agastya.

Men & women in two versions of the play

Agastya has taken creative liberties while adding complexity just for the heck of it (to test his mad creative genius, perhaps?) “The original play is all male. With a rich talent pool of women at our disposal, I decided to direct 2 parallel teams comprising both men and women, which brought with it many logistical challenges.”  Thus, the play has two simultaneous teams performing two versions of the play. You roll the dice as to which cast you will end up seeing—both are stellar performances. 

Everyone has their own story to tell. As the curtain descends you find yourself a bit disoriented, the line between reality and fiction blurred. “All in all, The Pillowman is unlike anything else that I have directed before,” adds Agastya.

The play runs through May 7, 2023. For tickets visit

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor,...