A strangely rhythmic charpoy, two men in their bare minimums and a deeply unsettling feeling that you are in someone’s private space – when you watch a performance as bold and imaginative as Queen Size in a city like Ahmedabad, you know the message of the art has been well conveyed.
An ode to Nishit Saran’s piece ‘Why My Bedroom Habits Are Your Business’, against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality, choreographer Mandeep Raikhy’s new presentation, Queen Size is a timely piece in the current Indian context.
Raikhy put two brilliant performers together in a semi-dark room and made them artistically go through the grind of what may ensue when two male bodies meet.
Mandeep RaikhySaran’s article inspired me to look at intimacy as the language for resistance against an archaic law. It also triggered the use of an intimate space like a charpoy as a setting for the performance. The name of the piece is itself a tongue-in-cheek play with the words ‘queen’ and ‘size’.
An Intimate Performance
A graduate of Laban Dance Center, London, Raikhy was Saran’s partner at the time the late filmmaker had written this in 2000 – one of the most relevant pieces on the subject.
Raikhy had soon left India to study dance, and got back a few years later to find the LGBTQ debate stronger than ever. Between 2015 and 2016, the community found itself in the middle of a tussle – both political and legal – and Raikhy chose to create this artwork because it seemed to him that the time was now or never.
The shrinking space for dissent, activism and rights experienced in the last couple of years was a trigger for the work. This felt like the right time for dance to become another medium through which people of the country could dissent, defend, argue and assert our identities in the public space during this time of the right-wingers.
The show that runs for 2 hours in loops of 30 minutes each is as physically strenuous as it is out of the box. The two dancers, Lalit Khatana and Parinay Mehra, use up all the space they can get in the room, to dance out what they have processed as intimacy – even while the audience sit lined across the four walls of the room.
Success of the work, they say, can be defined when someone so much as moves.
Lalit Khatana, Dancer in ‘Queen Size’During the performance, it happens that our clothes fall close to someone, or we bend towards a particular person or edge pretty close. At that moment, you can see people stay put, shirk away or quickly remove their feet from our line of contact. Recently, while bending near a young girl, she petted my head – it was obvious she liked the performance.
Lalit is a dance major from Salzburg, who has also worked in films like Haider and Rangoon.
However, there are people who are uncomfortable enough to leave without watching the complete act. “Which is a good way of showing dissent,” says Raikhy.
The choreographer has been deeply committed to take his work to a number of cities, big and small. From Delhi and Mumbai, to Imphal, Aizawl, Shillong, Guwahati, Pune, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Sonepat, Queen Size has broken ice everywhere with rave reviews.
Art on a Charpoy
Delhi-based Parinay, who has been performing for a decade, tells me that this is his third piece with Raikhy. About the subject of sexuality and the criticism it has always faced, he says,
It’s best to give people a perspective through your art – it is like allowing them to watch someone else’s point of view. Then, let them think – sometimes, it opens their mind. Some even begin to relate to it.
Interestingly, the rehearsals for the piece were in themselves a revelation for Lalit, who was struggling hard to connect with the concept.
In Europe, the public and artists are used to naked bodies or using nudity as an essential element. In India, it seemed difficult. It was very hard to even touch a male, forget create a performance like this. I was about to quit this piece but not before understanding what the problem was. At that point of time, Mandeep needed to buy a charpoy for the show and I volunteered to make it. In my village Gurugram, boys learn how to make charpoys from their grandfathers. While making it, I shared my apprehensions with friends in both India and Europe to get different perspectives. Slowly, I understood my own issues. I now understand that the piece is not about sexuality per se – it’s about emotions, raw and real.
A lot of art that talks of queer identities is making its presence felt in the Indian context. While movies have had a fairer chance to depict the community through powerful films like Deepa Mehta’s Fire, Nishit Saran’s Summer in my Veins and Rituparno Ghosh’s Chitrangada among some of the well-known ones, live performance is slowly making a mark. In that sense, Queen Size gets a tip of the hat for its unique efforts.
As Raikhy says –
There is no singular message here as our work proposes some questions – around sexual rights, spectatorship, identity and dissent.
(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.)