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Feminist theatre in India: A powerful medium to make gender mainstream

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Over the years, the field of theatre has advanced into a more prolific and organised undertaking. Now, it is being profoundly used to talk about issues that deserve mainstream attention. With stage and street plays becoming increasingly popular among the masses, it is only fit to re evaluate the concept of feminist theatre in the context of India.  [Feature Image By Nicole Mason on Unsplash]

We made a play on Sex Traffic Victims which offered me a much needed perspective on the issue, especially opening me up to the fact that men, too, are victims of it.

Fed up with the marginalisation and objectification of women in plays, a trend of feminist theatre had emerged in the 1970s in the West that strived to destabilize the male gaze and provide alternatives to the consistently stereotypical representation of women. At that time, theatre was being used vigorously to challenge the forms and content of plays and a creative women’s movement in the theatrical world ensured that the medium was being used efficiently to channel feminist ideologies.

With women taking up directorial roles in theatre, a landscape change is occurring in narrative structures. Women centric stories, role reversals, revelation of past injustices against women, critiquing the hierarchical representations are some ways in which theatre is enormously supplementing the cause of gender equality and feminism – Spotlight on feminist theatre India

Theatre for social change: Feminist wave

Rapid advancement and a broadened mindset has enabled theatre to become more inclusive, collaborative and gender sensitive in modern times. A new wave of theatre artists have emerged who are increasingly questioning and rebelling against gender norms. Theatre, being secondary to cinema, has long been ignored and sidelined in the country. However, at the same time, theatre at its grassroots is being used to drive unconventional messages to the audience and propel a social change.

India College Theatre Lady Shriram College

Image by Amadeo-Muslimovic-For Unsplash

With women taking up directorial roles in theatre, a landscape change is occurring in narrative structures. Women centric stories, role reversals, revelation of past injustices against women, critiquing the hierarchical representations are some ways in which theatre is enormously supplementing the cause of gender equality and feminism. Women handling production work and exploring the artistic front is also quashing the set household norm for them. Empowerment, through theatre, goes a long way in liberating women.

The women, through their play, reflect upon the humiliation a girl is faced with when the groom’s family inspects her physical traits. The open ended play is designed to include audience reaction in its script flow.

Some breakthrough examples of empowerment through theatre

The age old practice of “bride hunting” in many villages in Sunderbans is being rapidly questioned through theatre performances by an all-women team Jana Sanskriti. The women, through their play, reflect upon the humiliation a girl is faced with when the groom’s family inspects her physical traits. The open ended play is designed to include audience reaction in its script flow. The participation of local women has worked wonders for their emancipation in three poor community development blocks in South 24-Parganas, a study conducted by the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences (CSSS), and part-funded by the World Bank has found. Their initiative has helped men and women to come forward and speak against the wrongdoings imposed upon them. Alcoholism among men and instances of domestic violence has decreased and more parents have started looking out for educated brides for their sons.

Also: Judges Disqualilfy Delhi Univ’s Theatre Team For Use Of ‘Cuss’ Words

India women theatre in Delhi University

Image by Caitlyn Wilson For Unsplash

An NGO, Vanangana, set up in 2004, has been successfully organising campaigns to address domestic and patriarchal violence through street plays and theatre all over UP, the country’s most populous state, where abuses against women are rooted to the region’s feudal social structure. Theatre is being used to fight the social evils of dowry, domestic violence and sexual harassment inflicted upon women by the age- old orthodoxy.

Conducted on a much larger scale than before, the impact such stage plays and nukkad nataks leaves on students are immense. It is, at the same time, transforming student participants into artists with potential for making a social change.

College theatre societies as a medium of empowerment

Theatre has been a part of the college circuit since a long time. Its presence has enabled students to start debates about issues which would otherwise have been trivialised and discarded. Conducted on a much larger scale than before, the impact such stage plays and nukkad nataks leaves on students are immense. It is, at the same time, transforming student participants into artists with potential for making a social change. Dramatics societies of girls colleges especially put women into position of creative power. From script writing, directing to acting, they are seen administering it all. Path breaking portrayals of women and their issues are becoming common themes for such plays.

Also: Gender Bias and the Varsity Theatre Societies

“Theatre, for me personally, has been really empowering. It has helped me to connect with people and open up to others about issues that earlier made me uncomfortable. It allows me to overcome all the said notions that were imposed on me since childhood. Having directed and written plays has given me a much needed confidence. We made a play on Sex Traffic Victims which offered me a much needed perspective on the issue, especially opening me up to the fact that men, too, are victims of it. I hope through our performances we continue to make people aware about such issues”, Sweekriti Tiwari, member of Dramatics Society, DCAC, commented.

Our plays have been centred around important issues such as body shaming and the response we get for them really makes all the hard work worth it

“I have become so much more confident since I started performing street plays. Theatre has long been considered a “lowbrow” profession not necessarily meant for women. Thus, being a part of dramatics societies and theatre groups in Delhi has enabled me to follow my ambitions freely. Our plays have been centred around important issues such as body shaming and the response we get for them really makes all the hard work worth it”, Shubhangi, an ex- member of DramSoc LSR, explained.

Nimisha is an intern at SheThePeople

Also: Pinjra Tod to march on South Delhi streets to protest against sexual harassment

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