Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Vagina Monologues - The funny fanny dialogues

[Clockwise - Jayati Bhatia, Dolly Thankore, Dr. Sonali Sachdev, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal and Avantika Akerkar.]
The Vagina Monologues have been tickling people's fanny bone (mind the pun) the world over longer than I can remember and have been running in India itself for the past 9 years. I always wanted to go for it, but never really found the time to do so, until this weekend, when I was fortunate enough to finally go for it, with my brother's girlfriend, at The Comedy Store at Phoenix, which I must say is a great place, though with really meagre seating. I don't know how they can afford to host shows there, but hope it is economical and it doesn't have to down its shutters.

I had a lot of expectations from the play, which were built from hearsay and rave reviews and the fact that they had managed to rile up the obnoxious politicians, not just by its apparent obscene name, but by its strong creative content, so much so that when in 2004 Academy Award winning actresses Jane Fonda and Marissa Tomei made a visit to India to gather funds for the noble cause of protection of women, and were part of the show, their entry was banned in the city of Chennai! Mahabano cracked a great one saying, "If Chennai doesn't have vaginas, then it is full of arseholes". I have to say it delivered. I love the modern and witty script. Kudos to Eve Ensler and whoever reworked on it so that it was applicable in the Indian context, and yet equally funny.

There has been a paradigm shift in the Indian mindset over the past decade or so and a lot of it is due to the fact that how liberal the various forms of media, especially newspapers, television and films have gotten. They have opened the Indian minds' closed parachutes at the right moment, with enough time, so that they do not plummet to their sordid deaths. The diaspora now accepts things as they come and do not feel as awkward talking openly about issues that were only mentioned in hushed whispers, even though these issues surrounded them. Though we are a long way from our goals of a liberal open-minded society, a good start goes a long way. Oh the irony!

The play was contemporary, smart and tongue-in-cheek, just the kind of thing you need to unwind on a weekend, after the way the city treats you during the week. Being a big fan of FRIENDS and having watched it so many times that I could mime the dialogues, I kept thinking of episode 20 of season 9, 'The One with the Soap Opera Party', where everyone's at Joey's rooftop celebrity party and poor Chandler's stuck at some dumb play, and I was half-expecting one of the actors to suddenly go "Why don't you like me. Chapter One: My first period." However, nothing of the sort happened. The actors were simply superb, though of the aforementioned 5, Jayati Bhatia wasn't there on the day I went. Mahabano was amazing, like she was expected to be, and her rendition of "The Flood" as a Parsi woman's monologue was hilarious. I guess her own roots helped. However, she did fumble on a couple of occasions that day, but it was still a great performance. From Dolly, I expected a lot more, given her great past, but the script fell short there, for her part was very less and the last one titled "I was there" was too boring and a horrible end to an otherwise amazingly spent hour and a quarter. Now I probably understand why the original script did not have that part. Looks like they are indeed going grey, and paving way for the new breed, but not losing their regality. There were two surprises on that day, and that doesn't include the thick odious bimbo who arrived late and threw tantrums to get a good seat, I mean you expect people with a certain level of income to have a certain manner, rather manners, and class about them, but anyway, the surprises were Avantika and Sonali. Boy, did they do a good job! Sonali was exceptional with her part, especially the Marathi lady's part with the requisite accent and the 'Simi Garewal moan' were to die for! The audience couldn't stop laughing for a long time post that, which also received the loudest claps and hoots. But the star of the night, for me, was Avantika. She had the greatest expressions, an accent as good as any ruddy foreigner, and the voices and sounds that left her throat, were they good! She had great command over her speech, with amazing voice modulation and was dressed to kill.  That being said, the 4 of them worked in perfect tandem as a team, with exceptional co-ordination and looked all too good together. Move aside 'teen deviyaan', it's 'fab four' now.

We, in India, really need some quality shows. A Broadway or West End style district is a distant dream, but some amazing popular shows like The Lion King or The Phantom of the Opera should at least have one season in huge Indian cities. Maybe people will not pay as high prices, even though they would pay the same abroad. I guess it's like the old Gujarati saying 'તીર્થ જઈને મુંડન', romanized as 'teerath jainay mundan', literally meaning you shave your head when you go on a pilgrimage; though what it actually means is that you do things and are ready to pay high prices for something when away from home, which you would not have even considered at home, for you never know if you'll make it to that place again or get the opportunity to do something like that again. But still, these shows would work just fine, thanks to a burgeoning and educated middle class that wants to live a decent lifestyle with certain indulgences and aping the upper classes. All we need is some good auditoriums and theatres. The Nautanki Mahal at Delhi's Kingdom of Dreams is a good start. Hope the government does something in this area and makes it more viable to run such shows and also bring an opera or a ballet to India. India's only standing Opera House, the Royal Opera House in Mumbai is in shambles and a serious state of disrepair. This dearth of decent venues to stage such shows should be filled and soon we'll have great shows making a beeline for India.

Back to The Vagina Monologues, you should definitely go for it. Though it ended prematurely and I could have easily sat for an hour more listening women chatter about a body part I didn't possess, it still is an hour and quarter well spent and will leave you feeling fresh and lively, and will get all that bottled up laughter out of you. I can't wait to watch the Hindi version of it, titled 'Kissa yoni ka'. Anyone up for it?

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