LOVE & LAVANI (P) Play Review

Divyani Rattanpal

Direction : Bhushan Korgaonkar
Writer : Bhushan Korgaonkar
Cast : Pushpa Satarkar, Gauri Jadhav, Shraddha Nagarkar, Latabai Waikar, Chandrakant Lakhe, Vinayak Javale, Sumit Kudalkar and Shakuntalabai Nagarkar Along with Anita Date, Sambhaji Sasane

 LOVE & LAVANI (P) Review

If the play LOVE AND LAVANI were to be described in one word, it would be: Naughty!

After all, Lavani, the dance form whose story it aims to tell, itself oozes raw, sensual energy.

LOVE AND LAVANI the story of a woman, Shabana Ashtukar, who belongs to a matriarchal dancing community. Now, most women who are initated into the Sangeet Baris belong to nomadic tribes like Bhatu Kolhati and Dombari, that are Hindu. But the Kalwaat tribe, that Shabanabai belongs to, comprises Muslim women.

Since childhood days, young Shabana has been dancing like a dream. However, as custom dictates, soon after she turns 16, Shabana is formally initiated into Lavani by tying ghungroo on her feet, and symbolically being married to herself. Although she's not allowed to marry afterwards, Shabana may undertake the official patronage of a man, who would be her 'Malik.' But a Malik is not a legally wedded Mister, and oftentimes may even possess a legally wedded wife. Although that comes with extreme insecurity, the women of this dancing community are not at all woe-is-me.

Now, even as legions of male admirers surround our protagonist Shabana, she is relentlessly pursued by one man, in particular. Shabana too falls in love with him. But when dance and love are at loggerheads, whom will Shabana ultimately choose?

The dichotomy of the dancer, whose dance and married life are two opposite ends of a river, has been represented since ages in drama.

But LOVE AND LAVANI in the sociocultural context of the Sangeet Bari subculture of Maharashtra adds richness to its narrative.

Told in the performative storytelling style, the structure of the play may feel less cohesive at times, but the congeniality of the sutradhaars, Anita Date and Sambhaji Sasane, and the text they play with, connects them to the audience in an endearing way.

Writer and director Bhushan Korgaonkar has spent many years researching Lavani dancers. In 2014, he even published a book on them. And in his theatrical debut, it all shows.

By telling the story of Lavani dancers from their point of view, Bhushan gives them the rare power to control their narrative.

The story is juxtaposed with actual Lavani performances by veterans such as Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Shakuntalabai Nagarkar, who enthrall the audiences with their sensuality and grace. And by bringing together musicians, singers, dancers and sutradhaars, LOVE AND LAVANI establishes itself as an all-encompassing natak.

Now coming back to the one-word adjective we used for the play. NAUGHTY! Yes, naughty. How often do you see the otherwise sophisticated Prithvi audience whistling and cheering with abandon? But If the play was naughty, then the audience was definitely down for naughty!

But where the play manages to subvert all that male gaze, is by taking the conversation ahead. It aims to educate audiences about the strong and powerful women who make the traditional dance form of Lavani, the roots of which can be traced back to as early as the 12th century.

In that context, considering a Muslim Lavani dancer as a protagonist, especially in today's polarised times, is another applause-worthy directorial decision.

And lastly, by putting a photo exhibition of the dancers in the gallery adjoining the theatre- of them getting dressed; bruises sustained by them from ghungroos; sitting tired in their private spaces, B Spot Productions, the company founded by director Bhushan Korgaonkar, humanises them and lets the audiences take their stories home. Even that's an extension of performance.

*Divyani has worked as a journalist for The Quint, where she was also among the Founding Team members. While there, she also hosted and produced a podcast and fronted several standups. She's also worked for The Times of India group. She's now a theatre and film actor.

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