Direction : Maya Krishna Rao
Cast : Maya Krishna Rao


Deepa Punjani


Maya Krishna Rao is an audacious performer. This may be a truism or a dare. Whichever way you look at it, it's hard to ignore her. So, you must watch her. Even if it is once. This can be said of few performers.

The Delhi-based performer staged her recent work LOOSE WOMAN at the G5A's Black Box. The eclectic space has ushered in a new round of curation that enables a longer run of performances that emphasise experiment and practice. Performances such as Rao's LOOSE WOMAN lend themselves easily to such a space. But those unfamiliar with Rao's work may still find themselves encountering visual and aural stimuli ranging from the bold to the bizarre.

LOOSE WOMAN is in the same genre like her previous performances in which Rao has collaborated with sound designers and videographers. Here, she has got together with Sumant Balakrishnan and Santana Issar respectively. The centre stage is absolutely hers however to move, to speak and to gyrate. She is not afraid of showing herself; there is an almost deliberate undercurrent of exhibitionism and voyeurism with a kickass take on costume (designed by Pratima Pandey) and make-up. There is an obvious sensationalism to her attire + attitude, but what is undeniable is that she is upturning conventions of the female body. In the process she is also unravelling gender. She is very aware of doing this, and it is this singular quality that proves redeeming for an otherwise hotchpotch narrative.

The unsaid play on the words "loose woman" notwithstanding, Rao is more interested in conjuring up a middle-class Indian woman, bound and stymied by routine and convention. But it is not her story alone. Rao's meandering can be difficult to keep up with eventually, so it's best to let the performance wash over you in a series of impressions. Really, it is less and less about the themes that Rao has sought to address and more and more about the performer embodied in her. Rao may also risk clichés and her view on gender certainly comes across as very urban and therefore in that sense limited, but the desire to explore it in a very physical and visceral sense, cuts through her work.

The same may be said of her politics. There is a reference to Gandhi and his famous Salt March, and you can see that she identifies with Bapu's spirit. Like so many of her generation she must despair the present times of the nation. Yet her engagement is peripheral. Maybe this is also deliberate. In this troika of performance, sound and video, we find ourselves encountering a distinct kind of a theatrical experience. Whatever you make of it, one thing you can be certain of: Maya Krishna Rao is no doll.

*Deepa Punjani has been writing about theatre and reviewing it for close to two decades. She represents the Indian National Section of Theatre Critics, which is part of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC). She is this website's editor-at-large.

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