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What's vagina in Marathi?
What's vagina in Marathi?
By: Tinaz Nooshian
That and much more will be answered as the Marathi version of Vagina Monologues hits the Mumbai stage
On Tuesday, an auditorium full of Maharashtrian middle-class theatre enthusiasts were asked to yell 'vagina!' in a moment of collective liberation.
Yonichya Maneechya Gujgoshti (Intimate Conversations of the Vagina), the Marathi translation of the celebrated and controversial play, The Vagina Monologues, saw its first real performance at Prabhadevi's Ravindra Natya Mandir, after a test-drive private showing held earlier this month.
Adapted by feminist writer-activist Vandana Khare from playwright Eve Ensler's work on female sexuality, the 11 monologues played out by a rotating seven-member, all-women cast (Sangeeta Pitle, Neelima Deshpande, Megha Kulkarni, Vandana Khare, Savitri Medhatul, director Geetanjali Kulkarni, Suhita Thatte) discussed menstruation, violence, dizzying teenage sexual encounters, orgasm, childbirth, even lesbian sex workers with an audience spanning 20 year olds to a 75-year-old gentlemen, who admitted "mala dhakka basla" (I was taken aback) at the end of the two-hour performance.
v shall overcome: Actors rehearse for the play at Ravindra Natya Mandir, Prabhadevi. PIC/ PRADEEP DHIVAR
After being commissioned by Marathi magazine Navaman-us to write about The Vagina Monologues last year, Khare's research led her to realise she was inspired by the history of the play and saw it as a chance to draw from a community's experience, convert it into popular media and offer it back to society.
"My work with non-profit groups to fight gender discrimination allowed me access to grassroot culture, making translation and adaptation the easy part. The tough bit was to retain the audacious tone of the play without giving in to vulgarity, and working around cultural limitations," she said, explaining her decision to move away from the original introduction on vaginal hair, and to begin with menstruation, an experience far less "militant" for Mumbai's Marathi-speaking audiences.
"Would a male audience find it titillating, is what I asked myself. I didn't want to present that window of opportunity," she said, throwing a glance at Deshpande, as she imagined herself as a five year old terrified of bathing because water threatens to enter her "nooni", filling her up before she explodes.
While protest writing is far from alien to Marathi literature and drama, women indulging in it, is what makes the audience uncomfortable. Some of the most famous female faces of Marathi stage glanced at Khare's script to tell her how they loved her "poignant, moving, even spiritual" adaptation that incorporates Marathi folk music, TV soap title tracks and the Vidarbha accent, but one that was far too daring for them to attempt.
"They were fighting the baggage that a popular actor carries, before fighting the inhibitions of a middle-class Maharashtrian woman," admitted Khare.
The current cast pits veterans like Thatte and Kulkarni against young talent, some of whom like Medhatul and Deshpande, are media professionals.
Thatte, who sat in the audience during the debut performance, before she decided "I want to give myself this opportunity", shared the cast's concern over censorship. "It's a concern, not a preoccupation. We don't know how we'll react if a performance is disrupted. The thing is, when you got to go, you got to go. You don't stop travelling by a late night local because there is the possibility that you might get mugged, do you?"
With a temporary Censor Certificate and permission to stage just one more performance this month, the cast is not quite sure if the rest of Mumbai will get what Ensler calls "vagina happy".
"I want to keep the audience equation intimate, but reach out to the widest numbers possible. If someone wants to clamp down on my freedom, let them come.
I'm willing to fight street and state powers. I'll find new ways; terrace performances in homes, in slums for sex workers. I'll manage," said Khare.
'I was embarrassed' Sunil Shanbag, Marathi Theatre Director I've watched the English version and thought it was distant, an upper-class rendition. It left me saying, okay, that's how Americans are. But this one was in-your-face, real, amusing, provoking. The kaku (aunt) next door discussing her yoni, wow! We think we are educated, progressive, but I realised I was embarrassed in parts, and I was delighted that I was. I surprised myself.