Friday, Jan 18, 2019 | Last Update : 11:34 PM IST
Mandeep Raikhy’s choreography work Queen Size, a response to Section 377, breaks the wall between the performers and the viewers.
I have to tell you something, could you come out for two minutes, Nishit Saran asks his mother, camera on her face. She had come visiting her son in the US and this is her last day before returning to India. She comes out, all dressed up, asking what the matter is. After a lot of prodding, Nishit’s soft voice says, I am gay. The mother asks if he was joking. No, he isn’t, Nish says. And then slowly, she accepts, never getting angry, but taking a smoke, and repeating that she will be with him, she’s not ashamed.
Nothing about that scene is fiction, it is a documentary. Nishit had actually come out to his mom on camera. Summer in My Veins made him a gay activist and filmmaker. A year later — in 2000 — he wrote the famous article ‘Why my bedroom habits are your business’, in which Nish argues why his being gay is not a private matter when there is a Section 377 that criminalises his sexuality.
Nishit died two years after writing that piece, in a car crash. Fifteen years after he wrote it — in 2015 — his friend and choreographer Mandeep Raikhy read it again. It struck Mandeep that nothing has changed in 15 years. If anything, homosexuality has been recriminalised. He had to respond and he created Queen Size, a performance piece that shows in four sequences the intimacy between two men in a relationship. They play it on a charpoy, showing the emotional, carnal and mechanical encounter between two male bodies. When Mandeep took it to Kerala to perform it for the 54th time recently, as part of the ITFoK, he too became one of the performers, with Lalit Khatana.
“I needed to respond at a personal level (for Nishit). But there are other triggers too. In our country, dance doesn’t take any stance. It is apolitical, it reinforces the national identity. In 2015, when writers and artists were returning their awards, no one from the dance field did. For dance is linked to this idea of a national culture,” Mandeep says. It unnerved him. “Especially because it has to do with the body, it has the means to respond. If we are talking about the body’s right and the body’s desire, then the body is central to any kind of activism. But it is not in our dance field. That’s the reason I thought it is time now to make a work through which the body should speak for itself.”
In the beginning, he has been worried how people would take it, if they’d be angry or upset. But if they were, they didn’t show it. And Mandeep didn’t want anyone trapped. The door opens every few minutes of the performance for people to leave. “People have this tremendous capacity to absorb things that are uncomfortable, to transform during the viewing of the work. We have done way more than what was planned.”
It is an activist work, he agrees, a response to Section 377. And he brings the viewers to participation by taking away the distance between the stage and the seating area. Viewers sit in a close circuit around the charpoy as the men play out the choreography. “The idea was to bring down the wall between the performer and the viewer. Generally, the audience sits in the dark and the performer is up on the stage. Here, the viewer is visible, made slightly accountable. Viewing becomes part of the work. You can shift your perspective, change seats or leave when the door opens.”
Mandeep, who started dancing at the age of 19, hails from Delhi, went to study in London and came back to Delhi. A group of dancers like him formed the Gati Dance Forum to fill a gap in our landscape.