Resisting decay: The Decade of Activist theatre calling out Bigotry
Sanjay’s repertoire and directorial skills took an upward fillip as in addition to the early prioritising of gender, the theatre he directs took on a distinct position against right wing thought, orthodoxy and above these religious bigotry. We see the coming together of naturalistic techniques of Stanislavsky, the critical distancing of Brecht and the songs, narrativisation processes of indigenous traditions in directorial ambit.
Visitations, set in a right wing dystopia, so prognosticative, a right take over of our world and the attempt to homogenise thought and discourse and assert the supremacy of one religion. Ensconced there was the disregard for the human, for the woman, the girl child. Within this was the story of the trafficking of the girl-child. What does trafficking mean for the little girl-child who is sold for a pittance by her own relatives into a life of prostitution and bondage?
Burning issues of legal reform, legalisation of prostitution were placed in the problematic. For the facts of trafficking the group has relied on its own experiences in slums and red-light areas around Delhi and also taken cognisance of all – India studies done by diverse pro-women organisations (UNIFEM, WCD-Govt. of India and the many NGOs that the group has been working with for many years).
The proscenium play has been used as a tool for gender-sensitisation in slums, schools, colleges, women shelters and children’s homes.
A look back at the pitfalls in the institution of marriage from a woman’s perspective.
Patriarchally constituted, is this institution not only male-biased but also actively supportive of an anti-woman ethos? By retaining its male orientation, this institution seems to have put itself on a self-destruct mode. And love? Our notions of love are created out of cinema stereotypes. Are not all famous love sagas also male narratives that venerate the man at the cost of the woman? And is not love also a concept, conceived within our consumerist structures? And if it is consumerist, does it not further commodify the woman? Subjecting the most valorised emotion of love and the most cherished institution of marriage to a feminist intervention the questions both the validity and the viability of the two concepts. The play is not a solution-provider. Rather it seeks solutions from all of us.
The direction and scripting of this play took new ground.This play deals with making sense of contemporary polity in the post-Gujarat scenario and presents a scathing attack on majoritarianism. Culled from workshops where people who were present in towns of Gujarat when all this happened also participated, the play was an effort both at script creating and re-enactment. Our impassioned reaction to what has happened in Gujarat at the beginning of the year, the play picks up and foregrounds images of violence from our ethos. Violence, destruction, state oppression – in a world fast losing sanity, the play to foregrounds conflict and conflict resolution (possible/difficult/impossible). Within this rather broad ambit we would work intensively in our reality. We move back and forth images of terror and oppression.
This play was another first. The first play of Sanjay to be staged abroad. The play was presented in Contact theatre Manchester for the the first Contacting the World Festival (CTW).
Not Inside Us (2004)
This directorial venture continued the anti-communal foray. Avoiding the topicality of Cleansing we looked at the larger themes of communalism in the post-Gujarat and pre-general election scenario. Using a meta-narrative of a right wing “mind-washing of dissenters,” the play used a plethora of new techniques including slam rendering and adaptation of parts of Odets’ Agit prop classic Waiting For Lefty.
Partial Interest (2005)
An experiment in three languages and in linking three stories. A story within a story.
A liberal upper middle class family is used both for examining liberal upper middle class values and as a point of entry to examine the predicament of those at the lower end of our structures. Three professionals, all of who had reacted to and condemned communal carnage of Gujarat look at the polity in the new dispensation. How secular are we? Are not religious biases running deep once the suave upper layer is scratched? A Hindi subplot cataloguing the aspirations and disappointments of lower class people seeking to make it big in the city. The protagonist questions the motives behind such migration in his decision to return.
The Punjabi subplot constitutes the heart of the play and takes its facts from the suicides of small farmers in Punjab (Rajasthan and Andhra). Mainstream stories of the Green Revolution hide and distort the tales of small people, their indebtedness, and the sale of girl children to compensate the failure of rains, foeticide, infanticide, and caste politics. Hidden sagas waiting to emerge, waiting.
Combining issues of pandies’ heritage. Another directorial experiment in presenting an episodic script. Gender, class, religion and caste, the mainstreaming India has evolved in a manner that many are excluded, they lie on the margins. Three short scripts linked in their critique of the mainstream of our state and society from diverse peripheral “women” perspectives.
Extremely successful and sought after, these episodes (collectively and singularly) have since been staged at Oxford Bookstore, in over 20 colleges of the University of Delhi as part of WSDC offered gender-courses and also at Ajmer (Savitri College as part of Pathways seminar and in Sophia College) and in the village of Indirapuram.
Danger Zones (2007-08)
Taking the episodic three episode structure further, this play made the grapple more serious. The first episode dealt with the rights of marginalized children and draws on our years of experience of working with marginalized children and specially distillled from work in Nithari. The play uses Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin as a tying thread and reveals the callous hypocrisy of the adult world towards child desires.The second deals with issues of alternate sexuality and draws on decades of experience of dealing with women’s issues. The play deals with a working class lesbian couple and examines its travails. The script has been built from repeated discussions with such couples in a workshop format. The third moves into the future and re-examines the country’s negotiations with capitalism in the light of the phenomenon of the Special Economic Zones. Who progresses, where are we headed? A relocation of the economics of our country
Jab We Elect (2009)
Jab We Elect is not about who we elect but how we elect. Speaking from a progressive, feminist perspective the play looked at many topical issues in the ambit of globalisation and liberalisation, these include the nuclear deal, moral policing, religious fundamentals, economic troughs apart from others. With an episodic plot that cuts across classes and regions, urban and rural scenes, the play uses a combination of forum theatre and alienating devices (songs and choreographed sequences) to engage with the audience and ask it to repeatedly interact with the cast. The endeavour is to collectively examine our polity and its mainstreaming, dominant elements. The play does not provide answers, it does not raise questions, rather prompts the audience to think, respond and take the play further.
Sarkari Feminism (2010-11)
The play continued with tryst with the power of the state. Based it was on a actual event where the Delhi Government asked us to do a play of marriage and then baulked at the radical aspect of the same.
Sarkari Feminism highlighted the conservative that essentialists the power of the state and makes it incapable of bringing about any sustained radical reform. The play’s analysis of the feminist cause was multi-layered. The first inter-phase was with government policy. Taking an irreverent look at Commissions and Committees appointed by the state to look into women’s problems, the play presents a ribald, humorous take on these attempts. Then is the intervention of independent groups better than that of the state? Are they more capable of surmounting their class biases and better able to understand and address the issues? And leaning on the group’s incessant work with women in slums and bastis of north India the play presents stories that scream out the need for redress on their own terms.