The floodlights give a misty glow to the theatre and my mouth is agape, trying to capture the shiny dust floating about. It is my first time at Ranga Shankara and it could not be more apparent. C laughs. She’s back a second time for the play, it was that amazing, she said. I had my expectations but would it be worth buying a second ticket? That too on the same day?
The two women walk onto the stage, duffel bags in hand, very boxer-like, plastic bottles too. Sharanya Ramprakash sets off a monologue as could’ve-been-writer, friend-to-a-spider, Shakespeare’s sister, Judith. Ronita Mookerji transforms into her spider friend, spinning her web around Judith to keep her warm, to keep her company. The story ends with Judith pulling the trigger. Thrice. Each time, the shot is fired, a part of her died, till there was nothing left to kill. And she fell.
When the triangle is rung, I pull back into reality for a brief moment, giving me a slight respite to process what is happening. I think back to the Arts and Culture journalism class we had this week, trying to recall all the things ma’am asked us to take note of – lighting, sound, props, etc etc. All this go out the window as Ronita becomes the wife of Satish, an unsmiling, unsatisfied man who never lets her do anything. Her freedom takes shape at night, when he is fast asleep, and it takes the shape of a tawa. How ironic. She discovers herself in secret, her baby blue skirt getting hitched a little higher each time Satish goes to bed. Even then, he is controlling, holding her back so much so that I wanted to take the frying pan from her hands and hit him on the head with it. But then the triangle is rung and I am no longer worried.
Sharanya and Ronita have this unnerving capability of pulling the audience into their stories so much that I have tunnel vision throughout. My eyes and head move in tune with each of their characters, not wanting to miss a second of it. The only time I wish I could look down is when Sharanya transforms into a proud, savarna dance teacher and Ronita a meek student, walking about, making comments on a few people seated around the ring. N’s anxiety of being commented/called upon become mine and I dread the spotlight as it moves closer to my side of the ring. She passes, thankfully, and sits herself down, beginning to recite a poem describing a woman. Ronita mimicks each line that described her body, with the “grace of a fish”, with “hips like the periphery of the earth”. As each stanza passes, the descriptions gets even more ridiculous, the spotlight continues to stay on the teacher, even as R’s body twists and turns beyond belief, twisting according to every whim of a man, who, I’m sure, is the only one capable of writing a poem as ridiculous as this. Her face grows dark with anger, her patience wavering, her movements beginning to vibrate with anger, to the point where, even after the teacher declared the performance over and left, the student vehemently stays on, “still as an archer’s arrow, unwavering”, before breaking momentum and turning into anger itself, leaping across spaces and minds, screaming “Am I good enough now?”
She strips herself of the (metaphoric) kurta that demanded to be worn, free, angry, powerful, her each movement containing the anger of all the women in the audience and beyond it, our collective curled eyebrows spurring her movements on, letting her take on every ridiculous sentence uttered to a woman in the name of tradition. She tires herself out, but keeps going, every “Am I good enough now” getting louder with forced adrenaline, my eyes devoid of all anger, now pleading, wanting to embrace her and tell her she is worthy, always was. I think she hears me, because she slows down and rings the bell.
Deepika Arwind mimics a conductor with her portrayal of i am not here, each story rising up in intensity and an unwavering anger at the injustice a woman faces, at how the men always have it easy because culture forgot to include them while making its rules, at the tightropes women have to cross to prove her worth and still getting replies of “Mmm she only got where she did because everything came easy to her”, and the crescendo begins to make its descent and lands softly on (mostly) dry humour. This landing lets us pull away from the story and prepare us for the next flight of stairs, the breathlessness and next bout of tunnel vision (at least for me).
Amidst all this flurry of emotional confusion, the story before the final one, brought on another kind. Sharanya dons the oversized blazer she’d used when she was Satish to portray an elderly man, with her counterpart taking on the role of the man’s dog, Tiger. I couldn’t understand the story, and the little I did, makes it seem like the dog is a metaphor for women, and a man’s need to control all situations. The latter is made apparent when the dog starts barking at street dogs and he says, “Keep quiet, I’ve raised you to be more cultured than those mongrels”. This question is never answered and I have no way of knowing if I’m right.
Cards are thrown about and spread throughout the stage, with a few even hitting people in their frenzy. The two women become enraptured in a game of poetry making, creating and deleting lines with words they find appealing, among the mess. After a, quite frankly, rude interruption of their literary ‘hallelujah’ moment by a message about some red car parked outside the venue, the story halts abruptly, and while we’re still trying not to fall from the inertia, the actors step out of the ring, grab their duffel bags, and walk away.
Featured image credits: Bombay Film Factory