Beyond measure

Updated: Jul 30, 2019, 08:49 IST | Snigdha Hasan

A theatrical performance making its Mumbai debut this Saturday questions patriarchal measures for perfection and how they have come to be internalised to define the ideal

Beyond measure

When British film theorist Laura Mulvey used the phrase "the male gaze" in her essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, published in 1975, she coined a term for what it was like for women to be depicted in the visual arts and literature from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that often showed them as objects of sexual desire. Initially limited to academic circles, the term eventually came to be used in common parlance, hinting at the universality of the experience.

And not much seems to have changed 45 years later, for writers and artistes don't just continue to grapple with the male gaze in their creations, but also need to factor in new media propagating the same perspective. What's the Matter? a theatrical piece by Bengaluru-based artiste Anitha Santhanam, focuses on this universal nature of the gaze by delving into how we have come to accept and internalise the patriarchal measures for perfection. The performance will premiere in Mumbai this Saturday.

What's the Matter? is a combination of music, movement, text and theatre
What's the Matter? is a combination of music, movement, text and theatre

"The origins of the solo piece lie at different levels, starting with my personal history and the way I was brought up. The idea is to also delve into the wisdom of the body, how that's available to us and whether we allow the body to communicate with us or let the mind take over," shares Santhanam. Elaborating on the concept further, she says, "What happens when measuring the body becomes more important than the body itself? The patriarchal idea of body measurements fits a certain pattern, which when internalised leads to you to starve yourself and believe that if your body fits into a mould, it has paved the way for success."

But by measure, Santhanam doesn't imply the literal meaning alone. Having trained in Bharatanatyam for over two decades, she also questions the emphasis on meeting certain standards in art training, which overshadows the joy of movement. "Who am I if I don't meet these standards? And who sets them? Those in power and often, they happen to be men," she says.

Anitha Santhanam. Pics/ Supratim Bhattacharya
Anitha Santhanam. Pics/ Supratim Bhattacharya

These measures, Santhanam says, are all pervasive, even defining our down time. "When a group of friends meet, a lot of time is spent on deciding what to wear, and the joy of the experience is quantified through the number of 'likes' the group selfie garners. Doing has become more important than being," she explains.

Though the performance, which is a blend of music, movement, text and theatre, is rooted in personal stories, the audience response in Bengaluru helped her realise that the more personal her story is, the more universal it is. And she attributes this collective experience to our early exposure to patriarchal measures. "I can articulate my thoughts because I am an adult. But when a child is told what is right, he/she has no choice, autonomy or the mental wherewithal to evaluate it," Santhanam shares. "That's how early on these standards are internalised and the cycle continues."

On August 3, 7.30 pm
At Harkat Studios, Aram Nagar Part II, Versova, Andheri West.
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Entry Rs 300

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