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Calling vagina by its name

Last weekend, Kissa Yoni Ka, The Hindi version of Vagina Monologues made the audience laugh at jokes they did not think they would laugh, at and come out freer and thoughtful

"When we interviewed people on the streets in Indian metros, out of every hundred people questioned, only two or three knew the respectable vernacular word for the vagina," announced Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal on a little stage in a swanky mall in Lower Parel. The audience, some of whom were yet to believe that in this play, The Vagina Monologues (Hindi) presented by Canvas Laugh Club, the word vagina was used in the literal sense.

A scene from the play, Kissa Yoni Ka, performed last Friday at Canvas Laugh Club. Pics\Sameer Markande
A scene from the play, Kissa Yoni Ka, performed last Friday at Canvas Laugh Club. Pics\Sameer Markande

"Could be word play. This is going to be a funny play," a homemaker and mother had said, at the counter. It was funny but it wasn't her expected wordplay, and in Hindi — a language, which many in the audience speak, providing little space for euphemisms of a second language.

An engrossed audience seen at the play
An engrossed audience seen at the play

To ease things, it started with the funny — the nudge-wink kind — subtly hinting at something grave. The gravity, remained as an imminent possibility and did not encroach on the humour, as the audience laughed at uncomfortable jest. Through one narration after the other, the story of violence on the vagina was told. What began with violence of language — different vernacular abuses — then came to violence on the body; the planned mass rapes during war and rapes by the closest ones in the confines of homes. In the end, it left an engaged and liberated audience spelling out the word 'Yoni' (Hindi: vagina) without cringing.

Speak up
As Ravinder Singh, an engineer said, "This is the first time I saw this play. It helps a lot that this is in Hindi. It is fantastic, I can watch it with my son and daughter when they grow up." His wife, who has the same name, nodded in support.
This play by American playwright, Eve Ensler, has created a sexual revolution across the world and was brought to India by Mody Kotwal in 2003, with her adaptation receiving wide acclaim. Kotwal says, "It has been a roller coaster of a ride. Slow in the mounting (getting rights, finding actors, sponsors, banned at certain venues), but once it took off, from the first show itself, it has been fantastic. Not just being accepted by critics and audiences, but in what it has been able to achieve in raising funds to bring about awareness of abuse and the battering of women, in raising lakhs of rupees for shelters for these women and helping individual victims."

Monologues et al
She is confident that irritants like police concerns are temporary and the way the play is gaining acceptance it has overcome all. "We have performed to raves in Chennai and Ahmedabad, although it took us a while to get there, and we are booked for more shows in these cities in the near future. The government has never opposed the performance. Every political party has seen the play. In fact, we did a performance of the Hindi version for over 1,000 women members of the Maharashtra police force to sensitise them to the plight of women here," she says.

Jaideep Sarkar and Ritu Bhatia wrote the Hindi version. Bhatia says that it was by chance that it happened. "I met Mahabanoo for some other casting. Having been a fan of Ensler's original and of the Indian English performance, I jumped at the idea. I roped in a friend and co-writer, Jaydeep Sarkar, and we translated it together," she says.

Bhatia is happy with the current response and hopeful that the Hindi version will gain more acceptance. "I have almost always seen first timers come in with scepticism and go out with such tremendous emotion. We still have loads of people say, 'I will watch it in English but ewww! not in Hindi'. I think that has changed over years — people are willing to sample it — and the response is always overwhelming," she signs off.

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