By Larissa Mariam, Niharika Shantaraj, Sushmita Nayak
The 5th edition of Gender Bender, organised by the Sandbox Collective and Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan took place from the 21st to the 24th of August, 2019 at Bangalore International Center, located at Domlur. According to Sandbox Collective, Gender Bender is the first festival of its kind in India that showcases new works of art around gender, as a concept, discourse, construct, and as art itself.
The opening night was held on Thursday, the 21st. A short introductory film was screened as a kickstarter to the event, followed by a few words from the director of Goethe Institut Bangalore, Claus Heimes. “Proud to see the festival both grow, and grow up. Plus, it’s so much fun!” he said, gleefully cheering the packed auditorium on.
Drawing attention to the themed prints and posters lining the entrance and stairways of the Center, organizer Shiva Pathak spoke about how they got grantees coming in from parts of India, as well as internationally- Cairo being one this year.
The night then began with an hour-long stand-up comedy act by Vasu Primlani.
Primlani, being not only an Indian American, but also a lesbian comic addressed many issues that confused her about the distinct cultures. She spoke about the different crowd reactions she had seen while travelling and even about the threats she faced because of her sexual identity. Her satirical take about the difficulty in translating jokes and bits for Indian recipients versus an American audience added a personal element to humour, inspired by her family dilemmas too.
“I’m one of the top three women comedians, also one of the only three women comedians.”
She also joked about her sexuality and its stereotypes. “I say lesbian, they say threesome!”
When asked about what it was like coming out to her parents as both gay and a comic, she said “The whole world was going one way and my parents were going the other. My father raised me to have a healthy ego and that I’m an equal. My parents have stood by me, supporting my jokes even when they didn’t understand some.”
In a short Q&A session that followed her set, she also explained how she had to call on all her years of experience to make a set work because different audiences respond differently, saying how for “a good one hour set, you have to put in 10 years of work.”
When asked if anyone takes offence to some of her lines, she replied “Anything can be joked about if it is with the right intent.”
The audience consisted of teenagers, adults and middle aged people, and perhaps that’s why there never seemed to be a pause in laughter. “It’s interesting to see a movement in India trying to normalize an anomaly,’ says Jasim Anees, a first time attendee of Gender Bender.
Comedy is healing, it’s a cohesion between giving out love and at the same time, making jokes Primlani. The event ended around 8:45 P.M with Primlani talking about her purpose as an activist, as well as an entertainer.
Featured Image by Larissa Mariam