Print Edition - 2019-05-12  |  Free the Words

Protest Against Patriarchy

- DEEPESH PAUDEL

May 12, 2019-

I hadn’t watched the previous iterations of The Vagina Monologues but based on what I was hearing on the grapevine, I expected it to be radical, in-your-face and ferocious. Private is Political, the latest version of it, is indeed, no different. Produced by Katha Ghera and directed by Akanchha Karki, the play is a strong jibe at the brazen patriarchy existing in Nepal and elsewhere. The performance, which faithfully follows the monologue syntax, brings multiple anecdotes of abuse, harassment and perceptual bias to the fore. In order to do so, the playmakers have put in noticeable efforts in researching, arranging and designing actual happenings, ultimately making the play more authentic and pertinent. Considering the objective and approach of the play, Private is Political can be conveniently seen as an add-on to Artivism—a module blending advocacy, activism and art.

The play derives a lot from the public domain. Therefore, it often mentions the barbaric tales of Nirmala Panta, Hajara Khatun among others. On the other hand, it also excavates deep into many women centric issues, which are rained-on them regularly.  From issues of eve teasing, stalking and cyber harassments to brutal abduction and rapes, the play carefully portrays such areas with needed sensitivity and poignancy. And in between such extremes, it meticulously captures an ambivalent tone usually spoken by the men majorities. In one of the scenes, three male characters are shown guffawing in a tea stall brandishing their findings about women empowerment and progress. One of them—who flaunts a tee exclaiming Rage against Rape—trivially remarks how the provision of 33 percent reservation epitomises women empowerment. Others are seen making vague generalisations of women predicaments and lifestyles.

The director, through such colloquial conversations and common household scenes, successfully addresses the elephant in the room. Here, satirical punches and upright protest unabashedly beat pseudo intellectual thoughts, possessive family structures and skewed patriarchy.

Instruments in Delivery

The extensive use of monologue in a theatre production can, at times, bring challenging circumstances. Since audiences don’t have sufficient visual clues and have to resort to narrative information, the structure might hinder the flow of the performance. However, in the case of Private is Political, the inadequacy of visual events doesn’t impact the flow. The incidents exhibited in the play are so hauntingly fresh and ubiquitous that minimal signposting is enough to trigger the audience’s visualisation. Moreover, the monologue syntax used in the play has helped artists to break the fourth wall and directly engage with the audience.

One of the pivotal factors in achieving such engagement is the performance put on by the artists on stage. The actors succeed in inheriting the angst and pathos of the characters, which is visibly seen through their vocal projections, emotional outbursts and delicate nuances. This convincing pull off might as well be credited to the fact that many arcs of the characters are germinated from the artists’ personal space and observations.

Meanwhile, multiple histrionic instruments used in the play amplify the artistic expression. The thudding march-pasts, rhythmic mimes and punctuated outcries are used dexterously in order to maximise the protesting vigor of the thespians. The silence amid resounding chants also allows the audience to introspect and sense the grave consequences of many awful prejudices.

Structural Shortcomings

Amalgamating six different storylines into a hundred-minute runtime is quite a daunting mission. The primary hurdle in doing so is to figure out an appropriate time frame investment to each storyline. When stories start to quickly transition from one arc to the other, audiences might lose many essentials in the process. The same applies for Private is Political. Although the play sheds light on significant discussions, it risks channeling myriad information into few scenes. Such continuous presentation of information or incidents might prevent the

audiences from emotionally submerging in one particular anecdote. The play could have used a frame story structure, where a single story arc sits at the heart along with multiple sub plots around the periphery. This way, the play would’ve achieved more depths instead of breadths. In fact, this might stand out as an option to streamline the monologue series itself, with each version depicting a particular story in depth.

Another shortcoming in the play is in regard with the basic premise. The play, at multiple instances, shows six aspiring thespians rehearsing for an imminent performance.  They have their own aspirations, inhibitions and thought process. Much of the revelation in the play depends on the journey of these characters. However, this primary premise seems to be undercooked. As an audience, one might expect a conclusive end or confrontation of these characters, but the play ends abruptly without any significant progress in their respective story arcs. For instance, it would have been better had the audience got the chance to see how these rehearsals were chronologically culminating into a play, which obviously might’ve been the ongoing play itself. This would’ve helped audience to bridge a gap between the individual plots and the core story of the play. Although these structural shortcomings might seem inconsequential in the larger scheme of this project, it’ll help playmakers better devise their storytelling approaches.

Barring few of these niggles, all in all, Private is Political is a strenuous performance that tackles under-the-carpet issues of a problematic social structure. In an industry usually growing with social dramas, this play attempts to break stereotypes and biased behaviours in a blatant way. The sheer audacity and rebellious spirit of the play make it a worthy watch for all, irrespective of any gender.

Paudel is a founding Director of Tatsama Arts and a theatre practitioner.

Published: 12-05-2019 11:04

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