Playing around with identity

Published: Jan 10, 2020, 07:00 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

A play that looks at same-sex couples has been tweaked to include the current political climate of the country

Puru Dev and Akansha Manchanda (in wheelchair), who plays Ghaisas' love interest, is assaulted and slips in a coma
Puru Dev and Akansha Manchanda (in wheelchair), who plays Ghaisas' love interest, is assaulted and slips in a coma

Asserting one's identity seems to have become such a burning issue these days that different corners of the country are up in flames. Whatever the government's intentions behind implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens are, crores of people have construed it as a move that discriminates against one religion. But this sort of a divisive mindset isn't new to our DNA. Remember, it took us over 100 years to repeal a British law that bans same-sex relationships. Till as late as 2017, we couldn't legally accept the fact that homosexual couples have any place in our society. Why is that? What kept us chained so long to a regressive Victorian mindset?

So far, yet so fear

Sanika Ghaisas — an actor who essays the role of a lesbian woman in a play called Stop Kiss, which has been tweaked for the plot to include shades of the anti-CAA movement — has an interesting theory. She says, "See, whenever we are faced with something unknown, there is a feeling of fear and discomfort that builds around it. And that holds true for same-sex couples, too. When we see two such people in front of us, it might be natural for us to think, 'Are we gay as well?' That is something we can't deal with — the fear that this might be my reality too, and that I have been living a lie all my life."

Paarsh Salot and Sanika Ghaisas in a scene from the play

She has a point, and it's possibly that same apprehension that leads an unnamed character in the play — which will be staged on a large scale for the first time this weekend — to brutally assault the central characters when he finds them kissing in public. Their act of love went against his moral fabric. He couldn't stand the idea of two women locking lips. And this points to another regressive aspect in our society, that of some elders feeling that they have the right to decide on the romantic fate of youngsters. Ghaisas says, "Falling in love should be something that remains between two people. But everyone feels as if they have an opinion or say in it."

Shattering the class ceiling


These, then, are the prejudices that the play addresses through its plot. But Dipika Pandey, the director, adds that there are also themes of class conflict. Millie, one of the girls, is a traffic reporter who lives an upwardly mobile lifestyle in line with, say, Peddar Road yuppies. But Sara, her paramour, comes from a conservative Goan family and aspires to be a grassroots teacher at a BMC school. Yet, they fall in love despite being in relationships with men before. Pandey explains, "So, it's not just about the outside world. The girls are also battling internal conflict, an inner demon. And the audience is constantly thinking of how they will have the courage to voice their own opinions and assert their own identity."

Causing a stir

Which brings us back to the plot's relation with the anti-CAA protests. "The kind of struggle that we are facing with the act is a conflict based on identity, and we have tried to complement that with the small tweaks we have made," Pandey says. "The sole witness in the case is judgmental of the relationship that Sara and Millie share. And the cop investigating the case is full of his own prejudices, too. He is a right-wing character with a conservative and religious mindset, who feels that the two girls deserve what happened to them. He tries to put the blame on them throughout the play, saying they are the cause, not the victims," Ghaisas adds, revealing a plot structure in line with what the protestors on the country's streets allege happened at Jamia, JNU and Aligarh Muslim University.

ON January 12, 8 pm
AT Mukti Cultural Auditorium, Plot 141 A, Model Town Road, Mudran Press Colony, Andheri West.
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Cost Rs 150 onwards

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