Acting equal

Updated: Aug 15, 2019, 22:06 IST | Shunashir Sen

A three-day theatre festival will present plays that dwell on how society views LGBTQI issues

Acting equal
An adaptation of 30 Days in September

There is an episode in the latest series of the acclaimed web series, Black Mirror that revolves around the relationship that two friends share. One is a happily married man. The other is playing the dating game. The show begins in the present era when the two are roommates obsessed with the video game, Mortal Kombat. But then it fast-forwards 11 years into the future, with the passage of time having made them distant. That is, until the married man's wife invites his friend over for his birthday and they reconnect. Later that night, they start playing Mortal Kombat again. But the dynamics of the game have now changed to such an extent that the two can actually enter its fictitious world and embody the characters locked in combat. And it's in that fictitious world that they realise that they have feelings for each other, after one of the men initiates a kiss with the other that soon blossoms into a full-blown virtual romance.

The point is that the idea of homosexual feelings can dawn on a person out of the blue. And that's what the plot of Stop Kiss also revolves around. It's one of the three plays that will be staged at Antarang, a theatre festival that's dedicated to the LGBTQI cause. The other two are Khamosh! Adaalat Jaari Hai, penned by Vijay Tendulkar, and 30 Days in September. Of these, only Stop Kiss deals directly with the issue of homosexuality, while Khamosh! brings up the subject of women's rights and 30 Days — written by Mahesh Dattani — explores the subject of child sexual abuse, both of which are peripheral topics concerned with the larger theme of the festival.

Thespians from The Actor's Truth stage Khamosh! Adaalat Jaari Hai

Stop Kiss is about how two women develop a friendship in Mumbai, after one of them, Sara, shifts to the city from Goa. But then one night, she shares a kiss with Millie, her friend, all of a sudden in front of Kamala Mills in Lower Parel. Unfortunately, there is a bystander who observes this and gets so offended that he beats Sara to a pulp. She goes into a coma and the story then shows how her well-wishers gather together to bring her out of it. They include Millie, Millie's male friend who she shares a sexual relationship with, and Sara's ex-boyfriend. But the actual incident of the hate crime is never shown on stage, which only heightens its sinister significance.

Abhash Makaria

Speaking about how we can bring about a change in this myopic societal mindset that the assaulter displayed, Abhash Makaria, who's directed the play, tells us, "I have a cousin in my own family who is in a same-sex marriage. She had a childhood love story. Her partner and her used to study together and when they fell for each other, they never realised whether it was lesbian love or something else. It was just love. They now even have a child through IVF. And I saw the reactions in my joint family. No one was really conservative about it to the extent of stopping anything. But the conversations that my relatives had behind their back reflects the mindset that they were viewing it as something they were allowing to happen. It's as if they had some authority over it. But then I posted some photographs from a holiday I had gone on with my cousin and her partner on the family WhatsApp group. I wanted to see how people would react. And what I slowly saw over the course of some months is that birthday messages started coming in for her; people started acknowledging her presence in the group. So, what I realised is that me sharing just that one photo somehow made my relatives rethink their ways. They understood that if I can spend a holiday with them, then this must be normal. It happens."

What Makaria is getting at is that in these situations, change begins at home and you gradually spread that same empathy in the outside world. Even in the Black Mirror episode, the married man's wife accepts his virtual relationship with his friend. And if that sort of understanding is possible even between a couple, then how long are we going to let people like the man who assaults Sara in Stop Kiss get away with their actions?

Playing the part
Theatre group The Actor's Truth started Antarang in 2017 — the same year that the company started — with the idea of giving its students a chance to perform the techniques that they learnt in the classroom. "We pick up relevant topics and address these through the plays. Last year, for instance, we spoke about mental illnesses, since celebrities like Deepika Padukone gave their voice to the issue. This year, we will talk about LGBTQI issues following the scrapping of Article 377. We are dedicating the festival to the community, and the plays talk about concerns that surround the community," says organiser Amit Verma.

TILL August 18, 7 pm and 9 pm
AT Veda Live, Aram Nagar, Andheri West.
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Cost Rs 200 for each show

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