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This one-act play in Mumbai dives into the struggles of a queer artiste in Mumbai

Updated on: 21 June,2024 09:20 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Shriram Iyengar |

A one-act play brings to stage a novel take on the complexities, conflicts and issues of a queer artiste in chaotic Mumbai

This one-act play in Mumbai dives into the struggles of a queer artiste in Mumbai

Tanvi Lehr Sonigra (left) rehearses with Mati Rajput

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This one-act play in Mumbai dives into the struggles of a queer artiste in Mumbai

An individual voice can be a brave thing. For Versova-resident and actor Tanvi Lehr Sonigra, nurturing that voice has been the struggle of a lifetime. “Being a queer artiste in India is tough, and dealing with a highly patriarchal set-up makes it difficult to find friends and allies who are supportive of your work,” the artiste shares. This struggle inherently flowed into her latest creation, Aw, So Sad! that will premiere at an Andheri venue this weekend.

The play was first developed as a concept piece for an Indo-US collaboration with The Five Senses Theatre, Sonigra adds. “It was a play called Even Mists Have Silver Linings, for which I had created this piece called Nam Myoho Renge Crow. It spoke about a queer person living in a small apartment in Mumbai, her conflicts and sexual identity, among other things,” the actor shares. Over three years, the team performed the piece across different platforms, including the playwright Vikram Phukan’s platform for queer artistes, Inqueerable.

Sonigra performs a sequence from Nam Myoho Renge Crow
Sonigra performs a sequence from Nam Myoho Renge Crow

The Mumbai-born artiste shares, “I enjoyed performing the piece, but felt that there was something unfinished about it. It had a good balance of a political statement being made with levity that I wished to explore further.” It also spurred the writer’s desire to create a group that supports and engages other artistes from the community. “As an actor, you always want to have a group, a collective where you could push queer and marginalised voices to the forefront. We wanted it to be a space where different opinions are shared and heard. So, when Simrat Harvind Kaur and Vidur stepped in, we founded Ek Tappi.” Later, Mati Rajput, Kartik Sharma and Romy Italia came on board in January. Having worked with playwrights such as Manoj Shah, Faezeh Jalali, and troupes in Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), Sonigra was familiar with the demands.

In June 2023, the trio began putting together a team to flesh out the story further. It wasn’t an easy task, given its subtext and themes. “The storytelling was already set with the smaller piece. But it raised questions of art against the artistes, the struggle of a victim to be believed, and the shifting lines of personal and political spaces,” the 29-year-old explains. The new performance reflects the #MeToo movement. It is not autobiographical, but it does emerge from a personal space, she points out. Its premiere this month, which is celebrated as Pride Month, makes it more impactful.

The evolved work tells the story of a musician — a saxophonist — whose triggered memories and quarter-life crises set her off on a journey into the past. The music, by Jayesh Malani, also adds a dimension to the narrative. “The titular character, Sad Woman, is a creative individual and victim of workplace harassment forced to give up music. It becomes a metaphor for the longing for her voice to be heard,” she reveals.

The play is off to a good start with four performances lined up this weekend. The idea, the playwright adds, is to continue to build a space where the community and their stories through workshops and community building. “Of course, we are also working on our next piece that might be ready by next year,” she signs off.

ON June 22, 6.30 pm and 9 pm; June 23, 6.30 pm and 9 pm
AT Veda Black Box, Bungalow 120, Aram Nagar Part 2, Versova, Andheri West. 
COST Rs 350 onwards

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