Sexuality and gender have become a huge issue in this age.
Can a man, who delivers a child, be called a mother? Can two men in love be together? Is the role of a woman only defined by her biology? Can a man, who assumes a role traditionally associated with women, receive societal acceptance? Can the world make room for all genders?
The play Flesh, directed by Kaushik Bose, questions all this and more. Sexuality and gender have become a huge issue in this age. “But there happens to be a rich volume of Indian mythology that points at an ancient culture that was private yet tolerant towards the issues of gender and sexuality. King Drupada’s son Shikhandi, in Mahabharata, is one such character. In Ramayana it is believed that King Bhagiratha was born out of the love of two women, widows of a late king of the Sun dynasty. In fact, some of the sculptures in the Hindu temples of Khajuraho depict same-sex unions. But these themes are considered aberrations now. This is most likely due to our recent colonial past,” says Kaushik.
Based on the novel The Pregnant King by Dr Devdutt Pattanaik, it explores a little-known story from Mahabharata, about Yuvanashva, who accidentally drinks a magic potion meant for his wives and delivers a son. The play unfolds the quest for his identity and where it leads him. But it goes beyond that and essentially tells a human story — one that explores issues of gender and sexual identity.
“At the heart of it all is the premise that we can lie to the entire world, but we cannot lie to ourselves. What happens when we are faced with our own truth? What choices do we make? Do our loved ones accept us? Throughout the play the audience will face these questions while they watch the story unfold. But the play never tries to preach or propagate any stance. It leaves the audience to interpret the play with their own sensibilities and understanding of the issues,” he adds.
Kaushik believes that any work of art has the potential to bring about change or at least get people to talk and think about critical issues. “As people, we are comfortable exploring the unknown or the unfamiliar through mythology and fiction. So it is a great way for people to deal with issues that generally scare us. We, at Theatreworms, are hopeful that all such small initiatives add up to creating a change in the mindset of people,” he says.
Talking about the challenges, Kaushik explains that Flesh took almost a year of scripting, editing and rethinking, he says, “The challenge was to adapt the 350-page book into a 110-minute play, while keeping the core essence of the story. We are indebted to Dr Pattanaik for letting us adapt the book and helping us during the scripting with his invaluable inputs.”
Flesh has a cast of 14 members who have been trained through workshops on theatre and gender studies. “It was important for the characters to understand the nuances of gender before they embarked on the script. I also had to keep in mind that the subject needed to be communicated effectively. For that the language needed to be simple and the characters had to be relatable,” he explains.
“Delhi theatre landscape needs thought-provoking initiatives and mature subjects for the audience to be more acceptable of newer ideas on stage,” he adds.
Theatre worms plans to take this show to other cities like Mumbai and Kolkata soon. They are next coming up with Compunction — a psychological thriller and Dilapidated which deals with a love story with a unique idea of bonding and a strong social message.
Today at 4 pm and 7 pm at LTG Auditorium