*Notable faces: Joy Sengupta, Gopal Dutt, Nivedita Bhargava, Trisha Kale, and more! (Part of Aadyam’s series of plays)
It was a pleasant surprise to sit through Ladies Sangeet at NCPA (Mumbai) for this play took me by surprise. Since the Book My Show write-up on the play stated something about challenging gender stereotypes, I assumed that the play would talk about how women should be seen as an individual and not through the hetero-normative binary glimpse of the society.
The play has some great moments of humour, music drama, wit and subplots, including a fabulous set. It struck many right notes, and could improve on some.
The plot is about this girl, Radha, who is getting married to her beau, Siddharth, at her ancestral house in the hinterlands. The enthusiastic family members are going the whole hog – band, pomp, lights, and the wedding manager is trying to make the wedding resemble like the ones in Bollywood!
The undertone of all this shows the family as dysfunctional as often seen. A matriarch rules the house with mild tyranny, and has everyone willing to submit to her will. She has two sons and two daughters. She teaches one of her grand daughters classical music, more specifically, Bandish. She declares that no ‘Bollywood’ music will be played at the Sangeet. One of her sons is married to an ex-bar dancer, and this lady is not allowed in the house, nor has she met any of her husband’s siblings, due to her past. One son is the father of the bride, who has shunned his wife. One daughter can’t stop moaning over the fact that she is dark-skinned,. The last daughter has much dramatic flair, and talks more than she listens.
The gender stereotypes will be evident, you’d believe thus far. But there are many nuances around it.
- Bride has slept with the groom before the marriage, and he isn’t the only man she knows in-the-skin.
- Conforming to societal norms of ‘marriage’ are questioned.
- Stereotypical old lechs who likes to have the new daughter in law touch their feet so they can get a better view of her cleavage.
- Indian classical singing granddaughter can also hit western notes!
- Beauty of a woman being likened to her complexion receives some attention.
- The fact that there is more to a woman than just being a bar dancer is explored a bit.
- Parents often play cover-up and denial games, thereby shaming and alienating their child.
- A person identified male at birth is expected to marry a woman no matter what they desire.
- A woman who is a topper at Miranda House College, Delhi University chooses to be a housewife, and agonizes over her husband’s abandonment of the conjugal bed.
- One man who doesn’t wish to sleep with his wife, and live a life of lie anymore! This is the big twist!
Now, in the many plots,and sub plots, many gender stereotypes have been revisited,. The play cannot do justice to all in a short span. Yet, it does a fair justice to a few, makes one see a few, and treats a few with some haste. What amazes me is the delivery, humour, detailing, stagecraft, histrionics and heart in this 2 hour play.
Queer people, please note – do not be disappointed when the script mistakes identities and refers to a man, who tells his wife that he wishes to go far away, for she should not see her husband in a Sari and a Bindi, and refers to himself as a woman – as Gay! This is a gross mistake indeed, and confuses the political identities of Gay men and cross dressers. For a play challenging stereotypes, this is a serious blot!
What surprised me especially, was a gay actor in the play – who did not correct the error!
In the end, the story breaks the Indian tradition, and hosts a Ladies Sangeet without the marriage.
The acting is superb, and singers hit lovely notes with their singing. In my honest view, I’d watch it again for the many lines that made me laugh and the others that made an impact!
I’d have given it a 4.5/5 – but for the error, I deduct one star. So you have 3.5 stars, with a possibility of 4.5 with a minor correction! Purva Naresh, who has written and directed it, sure knows how to pack a punch. I had some glued-to-the-seat and some caught-up moments . The end lacks conviction, but sometimes we love happy endings more that true realities.