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Stories from the privates, in public
The Hindi version of 'The Vagina Monologues', staged in the capital recently, left its audience with mixed emotions.
Eve Ensler's visit to India probably could not have been timed better. The famous American playwright and women's rights activist landed in the country bang in the middle of the countrywide outrage and protests surrounding the brutal Delhi gang-rape case. And it is in these anger-filled weeks that her cult play, The Vagina Monologues, was performed in Hindi in Delhi for the first time. It first screened in India in 2003 in English.
It was on this very upmarket stage in Blue Frog, Delhi's current favourite spot for performances, that the Hindi word for vagina, yoni, made its debut. Kissa Yoni Ka opened with delay, technical snags and very oddly with a rendition of Adele's Rolling in the deep.
Following the same format that play has had for the past 16 years in over 140 countries, Kissa Yoni Ka was a sequence of short stories revolving around the complete nullification of the existence of a vagina in our daily lives, the "ugliness" of a vagina, the ineffable pain of rape and child abuse, impersonal medical examinations, the joy of finding sexual pleasure, and childbirth.
The performance also poked fun at the tendency of blaming sexual assaults on the way women dress in a sequence called Short skirt (by Rasika Duggal) as an answer to all those men "who blame us". It invoked the skirt (or any other garment) as a revolution and a freedom in itself.
A short song-and-dance sequence within the play that frolicked around with the Hindi slang word for the private parts (ch***) egged the audience on to yell/sing the word out repeatedly to shake off its elements of shame/use as an epithet. The audience, however, kept decidedly mum, which is quite surprising for a Delhi crowd considering that no Delhiite would bat an eyelid even if they heard it in a children's playground.
The almost two-hour long performance was an alternating mix of solemn pieces on rape, abuse and patriarchy and light-hearted stories of a Marathi woman who found a man obsessed with her vagina and wanted to stare at it for hours, a Parsi woman who had not been down there since 1944 and a sex-worker who wanted to help women find pleasure within themselves. But the most sublime performance of the evening undoubtedly was Duggal's rendition of the Big O. Duggal, in her serial interpretation of the female orgasm in different versions - as the Bollywood one, the giggly one, the grunting one, the Simi Garewal one, the machine-gun one - all of which culminated in one massive multiple orgasm had the audience in raptures.
The use of Hindi instead of English made a palpable difference in the performance's reception. While the English words for anatomical parts and sex would wash right off the back of an urban, wine-swilling, cashmere-wearing Delhi crowd, the Hindi versions of the word vagina, orgasm, clitoris initially induced laughter just at their mere mention. It was only later that sheer wit generated giggles. Ensler, at the end of the play, said that she found the media's question: 'Why in Hindi?' weird. "Isn't that the language you speak here? The language of a place just makes it more dangerous, more real and closer to the bone, " she said.
The final monologue - a translation of the original I was in the room that was performed by Ensler who witnesses the birth of her granddaughter - depicted childbirth and the supreme value and honour of a vagina in all its glory. It would have been a fitting ending to a performance that drew a complete circle around various gender issues except for one man in the audience who could not locate his friend and said, "Must have been too embarrassed".
Produced and directed by Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal and Kaizaad Kotwal, the play was performed by Varshaa Agnihotri, Rasika Duggal, Dilnaz Irani, Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, Shivani Tanksale and Dolly Thakore.
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