*Edited on 9th February with corrections
As a young gay individual, I do enjoy some privileges that come with being a man. Literature, discussions around my body, sexuality and pleasure and space to enjoy freedom does give me the liberty to live my life the way I want. However, on the flipside, patriarchy doesn’t fail to impact the queer community. While there’s a lot of noise about men (straight or gay), there isn’t a lot of culture around queer women of our community. Often voices and struggle of people with alternate sexuality and identity is spearheaded by gay men thereby changing the dynamics and politics for others, especially those who aren’t male.
I was unschooled about other sexual preferences and I failed to give room or benefit of doubt to others. Ehsaas filled this gap for me. I first watched this play in December 2016 in Delhi at a queer film and theatre festival and it instantly managed to leave its imprint on me. Co-incidentally, it was also the first time, veteran theatre artist Shilpi Marwaha was performing this play.
Ehsaas is a one-act play that dives into lesbianism by showcasing a young girl’s struggle to express her love and desire for other women openly. It is an emotionally volatile and expressive play with great use of props, music and the very famous and symbolic rainbow colours. It aims to spread the message of hope whilst also attempting to propagate awareness about different sexual identities, mainly lesbian relationships.
The play starts with apt discussion on controlling women’s desires and sexuality. It throws light upon how women across India are made to believe that their only job in the world is to serve the men in their lives for lifetime. The lead cast of the play is seen trying to question this norm and put some sense in the minds of audience. She gracefully makes the audience question their authority over other through body movements and powerful speech.
When I asked Shilpi how she chose to play the role, she asserts, “I was always aware and easily understood the lack of inclusivity in the socio-political scenes of our country. Since I could only act and make theatre, I decided to portray the topic of sexuality and romance of women in my play. I sincerely feel the need for parents of LGBTQI children to accept them, love them and help them prosper. The psychological impacts of typecasting people can be very drastic and last for a longer period of time. Ehsaas attempts to break that shaming and help bridge gap between queer people and their closed ones. I have received so much love and affection after this play from my queer friends that it has helped me cultivate passion for more such stories.” Currently, Shilpi is performing Mahesh Dattani’s Seven Steps Down the Fire that highlights lives of transgender individuals.
Throughout the performance, I could sense that Ehsaas is not a play that demands acceptance. In fact, it goes beyond the point of breaking the binary and looking at acceptance and dignity as a basic human right. What starts as an attempt to break free from the clutches of homophobic society quickly escalates to highlight the issues queer women due to stigma. The play also includes parts where the actor narrates her fight with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues due to society’s misrepresentation of the lesbian community.
Besides mainly focusing on love and relationship between two women, the play also attempts to break the stereotypes around homosexuality. The play is written keeping in mind audience that has no awareness or knowledge and hence the transition of the audience from being unaware to finally connect and become a part of the play is impressive. Shilpi added, “I think it is important for women to take the centre stage and talk about their feelings, emotions and passion. If narratives of queer women are etched by gay men or others, it is unfair and redundant a process because it doesn’t give you a holistic picture. Queer, trans, gay, bi and asexual women need to come front and demand emotional, mental and physical freedom for themselves. Only when they demand will the world hear and consider their needs.”
Towards the end, I was emotional. I was also shocked to see that everyone around me was emotional and appreciating the performance too. Ehsaas is a revolutionary play that doesn’t just throw light on the issues but creates a safe space for people of alternate sexuality, especially girls. It brings glory and dignity to women who don’t feel comfortable with their sexual desires. Shilpi concludes, “The play sparks debates and discussions and I am sure that it will lead to the desired change in our society.”
Ehsaas, a lesbian coming-of-age play by the Asmita Theatre Group was recently performed by Kakoli Gaur at Godrej Culture Lab in association with Harmless Hugs and Gay Bombay as a part of Pride Month Celebration, Mumbai.