Devi Unleashed: Celebrating womanhood in all its glory

Posted on 11 March, 2017 by Team Wishberry

Make meaning again, make meaning again, make meaning again… that is what comes to my mind whenever I see any special day getting reduced to simply another reason for corporates to offer massive offers and discounts to the populace. The list is long and unending… Independence Day sale!, Republic Day sale!, World Heart Day sale!, Father’s Day… Added to this list is International Women’s Day. With offer-related messages inundating my phone, I set off looking for something that would add a little more meaning to the day for me. I headed to Title Waves in Bandra for Devi Unleashed.

Curated by Zubin Driver, the performance was described as a “fierce and honest piece of theater” (on the event page), and honest it was.

The core idea behind the performance was to amalgamate various performative mediums to send the message that the Indian woman of today, despite all her strife and her long history of being oppressed both by direct as well as indirect means, is here and she will make her voice heard; however, broken, battered, bruised or angered it might be.

Conceptually the performance was well-crafted — it began with an introduction by Tara Ann who is all of 8. It was interesting to witness the presence of many children at the performance. What followed the introduction was an Odissi dance performance of Durga Stuti (a piece that shows Durga’s various forms including Kali and Mahisasurmardini) by Mitali Dsouza. Her quiet grace as she invoked the divine Goddess and bowed to her in reverence and ultimately became the Goddess herself was unique not only because of her craft but because of where we were — in a bookstore — in Bandra, Mumbai. And when she slayed the demon Mahisasur with her trishul I felt quiet exuberation rising from within as well as a certain discomfort that comes from the entire politics of the origin of the Goddess and the hegemonic discrimination that is at the heart of ‘Gods’ slaying ‘Demons’. But that is another story…

The crescendo at a high after the Durga Stuti, I was expecting it to only build up further. It did — but only in bits and pieces. Barbara Pinto’s reading of Svati Chakravarty’s short story Maternity Ward was mainly lacklustre but the story in itself is a gripping tale of a young girl on the verge of giving birth at a state-run hospital. Abandoned by her family and contract-bound to give up her child, when she cries out in pain in the labour is both devastating as well as infuriating (infuriating because of the helplessness that one experiences witnessing; albeit in performance;  the ‘everyday’ plight for countless Indian women without access to proper medical care during and after pregnancy).

Zubin Driver’s Devi, a monologue highlighting the mundane lives that probably many Indian housewives lead was interesting and reminded me of Kamala Das’s poetry (Maggots and Stone Age). It was valiantly performed by Lopamudra Mohanty and her portrayal of the Devi within every woman — Devi who only comes out when no one is looking, when breathing feels like a chore in the face of leading a life only for others, when oppression tips one over the edge of what is considered ‘normal’ or ‘sane; Devi unleashes her power and wrecks havoc on earth and all earthlings — was invigorating. However, the performance had some low points as well. I chose to overlook them because of the message at hand — do not give yourself into the whims and fancies of a society that, in most ways, is looking for ways to keep you in your ‘place’.

Antara Telang’s reading of Tinder-ing As A One-Legged Girl In Mumbai was well-delivered with equal portions of self-deprecating humour and an honest insight into these jungles we call metropolises.

The evening also witnessed the recital of Bahinabai’s poetry by Nalini Vaz, Reshma Pinto’s reading of Rabiya Nazki’s short story She and a performance by Sharvari Vaidya who sang two of Mirabai’s bhajans (Main toh sanware ke rang ranchi and Saason ki mala pe simaru main pi ka naam).

However, it was Rutuja Nagwekar’s ‘striptease’ on Zubin Driver’s monologue of the same name which clearly was a touch above the rest — although I did feel a pinch of guilt at not being fluent in Marathi and therefore, in all probability missing out on some of the nuances that comes with knowing the language in which an artistic piece is performed. The monologue is a fierce take on what it means to be a woman today. Like everyman from the days of yore, Nagwekar becomes everywoman… She is Sonika, Megha, Pamela, Kimberly… and she is naked… in your head and mine. The performance is unnerving, unsettling and thought-provoking. It was the perfect end to the evening as Nagwekar transforms from Sonika, Megha, Malti and Devi to being a ‘woman’.

Despite a few notes of low, the evening seemed like a fitting tribute to Women’s Day. And to the credit of the independent arts’ scene, they are at the forefront of keeping the fight for equity and equality alive.

Here’s hoping to the fact that all those in attendance were able to “awaken & celebrate the DEVI in each of us” (this text was borrowed from the leaflet provided to the audience at the performance).

‘Fun’ fact: Did you know that a women's march on March 8 in Petrograd, Russia, sparked the historic Russian Revolution in 1917?

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