A lot of conversations today revolve around LGBTQ rights – and the Indian theatre scene is doing its best to reflect the times we live in. ‘Flesh’ can be one of the most relevant plays in this regard.
An adaptation of Devdutt Pattanaik’s book The Pregnant King, the play traces the story of a childless king who becomes pregnant through a potion by chance. Gender divide, role reversal, the concept of dharma and what is normal and what is an aberration are some of the poignant points that the production traces through the story.
The founder of Delhi based Theatreworms Productions and director of the play, Kaushik Bose, calls reading Pattanaik’s book a moving experience.
The story of the king Yuvanashva is very relevant to our times. A work of art has the potential to inspire change or at least get people to talk about critical issues – and ‘Flesh’ took birth from that inspiration.
Acceptance of the Third Gender
He elaborates on how India’s cultural heritage indicates acceptability of the third gender, but how they are still marginalised.
Across our ancient scriptures, fables, religious epics, we see the reference of the third gender and homosexuality, but we continue to look down upon them, to this very day. We tend to see the spectrum of men at one end and women on the other, doing what they are expected to do, without understanding the fluidity that is ‘gender’.
To add context, Bose speaks about Chapal Bhaduri, the last of the living female imitators in Bengali theatre. Bhaduri played the role of female characters in Bengali folk theatre during 1940-50s.
What came through an interview of his was the society’s inability to wholeheartedly accept someone who was different from the rest. And that is all that Bhaduri really yearned for. While doing the play, I felt the need to drive that point home. One of the scenes which is not in the original book, is actually written around this.
The play that asks out aloud if biology defines destiny has since received critical acclaim.
Suhail Abbasi, founder, Humsafar Trust, says,
Any play, film, painting or art form becomes an agent of social change and that is important since there is such misunderstanding and discrimination towards all sexual minorities. Any form of art, such as this play, that projects the sexual minority in the correct light will bring about a positive change.
This is Pattanaik’s first fictional work and it explores topics of gender and sexuality through mythology.
Devdutt PattanaikAs people, we are comfortable exploring the unknown or the unfamiliar through fiction. So I felt this was a great place for people to deal with gender and sexuality related issues that generally frighten us.
More Than ‘Mindless Entertainment’
The actors of the play have depicted these sensitive issues deftly, but before that, they had to research on the subject and do workshops to get an orientation on gender and LGBTQ issues.
Kaushik Bose, founder of Theatreworms Productions and director of the playThe biggest challenge was to make Mayank Gulati, the actor playing the protagonist, understand the emotional and physical transformation during pregnancy and the emotional attachment a mother has with her child, while breastfeeding and at other points. It was critical for him to understand that to create Yuvanashva.
The theatre group that has always taken up challenging scripts believes theatre cannot be just mindless entertainment.
It is heartening to see that the interest in theatre is growing among the millennials and the new audience is seeking variety in subject and thoughtful content. Our play questions several issues like whether a man who delivers a son can be called a mother, whether two men who love each other can be together, whether the role of a woman should only be defined by her body, whether the ‘principles of life’ or Dharma can make room for all – man, woman and everything in between. The audience is allowed the freedom to interpret it according to their own sensibilities.
(Runa Mukherjee Parikh has written on women, culture, social issues, education and animals, with The Times of India, India Today and IBN Live. When not hounding for stories, she can be found petting dogs, watching sitcoms or travelling. A big believer in ‘animals come before humans’, she is currently struggling to make sense of her Bengali-Gujarati lifestyle in Ahmedabad.)