Vandana Khare's Marathi adaptation of Eve Ensler's celebratedVagina Monologuesconsciously greets contempt and confrontation on its way to critical acclaim.
Witty and observant, Vandana Khare, who is in her mid-forties, is not your archetypal feminist. The resolve and commitment of her social activism thrives on her unwavering faith in participatory design, as it does on her extraordinary sense of humor and command over idiom. That she also happens to be an excellent actress is God sent for the larger cause of her Marathi adaptation of Eve Ensler's THE VAGINA MONOLGUES, titled Yoneechyaa Maneechya Gujgoshti.
The author's versatility marks several triumphs for the adaptation - Prime among them is the quality of its articulation. While the translation intersperses local anecdotes and motifs in line with native sensibilities, it does not lose the soul of the original.
As the monologues unearth dark secrets, suppressed feelings and mute anguish linked to the vagina, the context is 24-carat Maharashtrian - be it stories of menstrual distress, sex cravings, childbirth, incest, gender bias or lesbian relationships. Thanks to this improvisation, many myths and taboos rooted in our culture wriggle out of hibernation to highlight the larger universality of female issues across the globe.
Khare already has a rich repository of audience response across Maharashtra - Mumbai, Pune, Nasik, Kolhapur, Ratnagiri and Amravati among other places. Nevertheless, it's interesting to note the audience reaction to the latest performance at the PL Deshpande auditorium in Mumbai.
The ticket window saw a desperate crowd, locked in serpentine queues, anxious to secure a seat in the mini theater. Most of the male population, comprising over 90 per cent of the audience wore a quizzical expression. Despite the awareness through media coverage, they seemed unsure of the ensuing prospect - whether a "hit-and-hot" titillating play or a bland documentary on those "wailing women's issues".
That they were surprised would be an understatement. As the play proceeded, the initial coarse looks and sardonic laughs at the mention of local flavors of the C-word gradually made way for bafflement over female fantasies and even empathy at the stories of distress, abuse and mutilation.
The true-to-life rendering by Khare and Samata Medhatul kept the audience positively engaged as the latter could easily identify with the believable characters trapped in real-life situations - Khare's portrayal of an old Goan lady reminiscing the half-baked yesteryear awareness of her sexuality was the highlight of the show - a delicate weave of humor and pathos that won a genuine round of applause.
Going forward, the play could look at weeding out a few apparent glitches:
The appeal at the start of the play calling for an uninhibited yell of the word "Yoni" seemed lost on the crowd - largely due to the weak rendering of the anchor. Should the liberating shout - an integral part of Eve Ensler's VAGINA MONOLOGUES - be a mandatory sermon? An open appeal to an over-inhibited audience, that too by a weak artiste, may not always be a good idea as it could easily lose the desired poise from the viewer.
A popular Sudhir Phadke "Bhavgeet" number "Kurvalu ka sakhe ga" (Shall I caress your hair?) coincides with a monologue questioning the male aversion to female pubic hair. The liberty is inventive no doubt but is it discreet - tweaking a legendary voice to suit your context can invite nuisance value - as it is, Khare and her team are grappling with it on manyfronts.
Some parts of the narrative utter the C-word like a chant. The din of repetition can easily be avoided without defeating the ultimate purpose.
Casting seems an elusive challenge. Most of the players, largely being audience-turned-artistes, understandably travel on a steep learning curve. But the sensitivity to the larger cause cannot condone poor histrionic skills... and vice versa. Barring Khare and Sushprabha, the rest of the cast clearly lacked flair.
The fade-in fade-out of the last few monologues seemed extended and abrupt -probably some directorial intervention can help restore the continuum.
With all its limitations, the play makes a big dent into the hypocritical fabric of our long-cherished culture. As the artistes chug their avant-garde train blowing the whistle of Chut-Bai-Chut, they sanctify the dark parlance of graffiti - a known male preoccupation - only to liberate the source of creation from the bondage of both divinity and abuse.
Undeterred by contempt and confrontation, architect-turned-humanist Khare treads on her path of participatory evolution. Her sensitive adaptation is truly one-of-its kind - a neat convergence of activism and theater. Precisely why YONEECHYAA MANEECHYA GUJGOSHTI should be best documented as an inspirational memoir for a global audience.
*A cost accountant by qualification, Sudhir Raikar says that his chequered career of melodramatic proportions brought him closer to the world of films and theatre. He brings with him over 17 years of experience in writing that includes journalistic reports & stories, book and film reviews, analytical writing, critical appreciation, marketing communication, translations and business writing for leading media houses and corporates. His passion is fit-for-purpose writing