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Wordbred

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Uncivilised Daughters : A Play by Abhivyakti

As much enthusing, ego-boosting it was to hear the name Wordbred being announced on the stage, it is only fair for us to, in our best capacity, put up a comprehensive review of this play, called ‘Uncivilized Daughters’.

Organized and enacted by Abhivyakti (cast and crew as stated at the end), the theatre society of Maitreyi College, ‘Uncivilized Daughters’ is a protest-as-a-play about the sacrifices that an average woman makes to fit as a peg in the contemporary society.

The whole play is episodic in nature, each segment separated by a musical interlude or a roll-out banner displaying a factoid relevant to theme of the segment. The props, visible since we entered the hall, are minimal, consisting of two identical 1 m x 2 m x 2 m modular cuboids, one placed horizontally, and the other vertically adjoined to it.

 

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After the customary introduction of all the partners and sponsors, the narrator dedicates this play to Jyoti Da, once a seminal figure in the establishment of their society, who has recently passed away. As the acts of the play are episodic, the discussion of their summaries and themes shall also be stated episodically.

 

INTRODUCTION

After a voiceover narrative listing the “sins” of an independent woman, all cast members line up around the prop setup. The first one to draw attention is Rashi Sharma, perched on top of the cuboids, playing a simple melody on her violin, soon joined by Shriya Tandon on a harmonium, hidden behind her and Shivani Behl on the the djembe. Then

Suddenly

Banging banging banging on the props, which by the sound indicate they have been made of plywood. This brash, bold, uncivilized harmony was soon joined in by a loud chorus of all the cast members, wailing a battle cry against being “civilized”. This cry develops into an evocative chant.

One noteworthy feature in their coordinated costumes are the nude tights wrapped over everyone’s jeans, below the knee level. This costume choice, as compared to simply wearing shorts, is made deliberately to draw attention to the pride in their skin, the emphasis of the flesh by the covering of the flesh.

This dream-like sequence dissolves with an alarm clock blaring. This leads to the first segment which, having taken a class from Ubu Roi Academy of Profanity-Laden Openers, begins with a lady springing up from her bed (again, the modular props), chirping, “Oh fuck!”

 

MAKE-UP

Wake up
Confidence level: 0%

Stroke of eyeliner
Confidence level: 30%

Puff of compact
Confidence level 30%

40%

60%

80%

Confidence level: 100%

Presentable, presentable.

This Stepford Sister-like mantra is continuously repeated in this segment, where, either while getting ready for work, or being at work (some loving their work, others their bosses), or commuting back from work, applying make-up is not simply desired, but rather a mandatory function, like brushing, or shitting. The “presentable, presentable” 100% confidence level, through rigorous repetition, gets a little grating for us as an audience.

However, in doing so, it vastly succeeds at proving how grating it is for THESE women to have these commands constantly reinforced by the society.

If one deconstructs a traditional advertisement, one can visibly spot two core components:

  1. inducing an insecurity in the audience
  2. offering fulfillment through their product

Want to be the coolest fresher in college? Apply toothpaste.

Want to become like your favourite superstar without putting in all the hard work behind the scenes? Apply fairness cream.

Want to accumulate a sufficient number of Facebook likes as an artificial measure of validation? Apply soap.

 

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This warmongering by the ad agencies against the general self-esteem, has an unavoidably high casualty rate through cosmetics, as is the point of this segment.

 

WAXING

The violin leitmotif from the introduction is repeated here again. This time, however, the percussions are replaced from the aggressive prop banging to the mellow tabla by Sampurna Dutta. In addition, there is passive-aggressive forearm slapping and yanking. This repetitive action, as will be apparent from the subheading, is a pantomime of the violent ritual of waxing. The slapping itself is meant as a mockery for this imposed standard of beauty, that being hairless is the true norm of being lady-like.

Adding to the mockery, all cast members kneel down in potty pose, while a flushing sound plays intermittently throughout this segment. These are two bodily functions – one whose end result is unconditionally expected by the society, another which is not even supposed to be mentioned in the society. As stated by Chaitali Pant, a cast member and fellow Wordbred writer, “Does anybody ever imagine a woman to be shitting?”

This section was highly monologous, with one cast member rising between chants, and talking to the audience in various languages like English, Hindi, Punjabi and Bengali. These monologues were exaggerated, even to the effect of claiming that one character had to start waxing from the age of nine, which seems too young an age to be so body conscious.

However, the intent of this segment was, like the plea of one exasperated lady, that WHO ARE THEY WAXING FOR? For the approval of a guy ogling her in the metro? For being considered the same kind of beautiful as the supermodel in the magazine?

Some of these statements feel not at all a part of a rehearsed play. In certain portions you can see the anguish in the faces of these ladies, perhaps recalling the real life grievances which inspired these lines. These surprising moments of vulnerability are what justify the name of this theatre society.

It’s Abhivyakti. Articulation through expression.

 

HIDDEN TREASURES

The treasures over here refer to the bras and the undergarments, which every woman wears, yet is subject to scorn and secretive voyeurism when displayed in public.

This segment laments the privacy, or lack thereof, afforded to a woman in society. This is reinforced through shaming over leaving the undergarments out to dry, or over visibly wearing a bra in public (through the occasional visible bra strap), or over visible not wearing a bra in public. Truly, a Catch-22 of attire etiquettes.

This desire for privacy results in a request, rather a demand, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room Of One’s Own’.

“Ek adad kamra chahiye”

Ek adad kamra chahiye to think.  Ek adad kamra chahiye to read. Ek adad kamra chahiye to smoke and to have chai.

Ek adad kamra chahiye, to masturbate.

 

MASTURBATION OF THE FEMALE KIND

A girl, alone in her room, is reading 50 Shades Of Grey. Without getting too much into a critical analysis of the book itself (it sucks), it forms a symbol for female erotica and sexuality.

That there aren’t any better books to form this symbol, is itself a statement about how this is one rare book in the public knowledge that dares to deal with female sexuality, no matter how shoddily. This unwillingness to delve into, or even consider, female erotica, is also the point raised by this segment.

 

Photo 2

 

Over here there are two fights. While this girl reads, another cast member, embodying her subconscious, scoffs at her and physically restrains her from indulging in such literature. After a brief dance performance, depicting this girl fighting with her subconscious, she emerges victorious against this society-induced guilt, and feels confident enough to get back to reading.

Which is when the second fight starts, when her father calls out to her and she has to immediately bury away the book. In this fight, as always, the unrivalled victor is the society.

The critique provided over here, is that female masturbation, an act of self-love, a discovery of their own body and pleasure, is esteemed a taboo precisely because a man should hold the responsibility of these carnal pleasures, which is further cemented by the fact that virginity is held synonymous to “pure” or “good” or “virtuous”, regardless of the presence, or absence of actual virtues.

 

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COMMODIFICATION OF LOVE

In this segment, we notice the patterns in stage lighting. During the speeches and the monologues which are directed to the audience, the stage is washed with moody blood red lights.

 

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On the other hand, the skits and the plot-like segments are more brightly and clearly visible with yellow lights.

 

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This segment is one such yellow-light skit. There are four principal characters over here:

  1. a pretty but vain girl, who is overly obsessed about the love lives of those around her, fitness, figures, and her manicured nails.
  2. a lovestruck girl, who found her Mr. Perfect on Tinder, called Prem Chopra, whose 9 year age gap means that they are in  mature relationship.
  3. a tragically romantic girl, who slits her hand out of despair when the love of her life likes the Facebook photos of other ladies, yet is quick to make up with him through just one phone call.
  4. an aloof girl, an antithesis to the obsessions of the other three, who dares to eat chocolate publicly, and doesn’t really care about “In A Relationship” statuses.

After the preceding serious and heavy segments, this act is refreshing in its comedic, satirical take on our generation’s obsession with rom-com movie love and Bollywood music love. The hilarious punchline to this whole act comes in the form of an aarti chorus by all cast members, with lyrics as follows:

Baby khaana khaya kya

Baby aaj nahaya kya

Baby recharge karaya na

Baby pyaar nibhaya na

These phone calls, Tinder matchmaking, exclusive relationship via Facebook likes, all come from a very real trend of seeking and validating a socially-recognized love through digital media. This, however, is a very minor observation of this segment.

The main theme of this segment can be stated as the term “commodification of love”. As with the cosmetics advertisements above, the perennial media around us, such as movies, songs, ads, aim to 1) create an insecurity in the minds of the audience, and 2) promise to fulfil these through the market-research concept of love.

Want to drive away the feelings of loneliness and obscurity? Get an SO.

Want to have someone occupy all your time with sweet nothings over phone, to avoid any deep seated issues or introspection? Get a bae.

Want to accumulate a sufficient number of Facebook likes as an artificial measure of validation? Be “In A Relationship”.

This leads to a highly skewed and distorted set of expectations as to the idea of love, hence leads to great unfulfillment in relationships, lowered self-esteem, and as a directly direct result of this, and ideal mindless consumer to the products sold in the name of love.

 

Photo 6

 

BAND BAAJA BAARAAT BANALITY

Begins with jangly music, epilepsy-inducing lights, which if you have been in a North Indian wedding, you would know is not far from the truth. A masculine lady is dancing all over the stage, not unlike any generic Punjabi uncle. Soon a more dainty lady in a dupatta joins along, and the two get playful with the prop cubicles, and each other. A little too playful, as they topple down the props and hide behind for what is clearly insinuated to be some lesbian sexy-time.

They’re soon cut short though, as the bride and a few bridesmaids walk into the room, and they all have a superficially innocuous chit-chat about the wedding sarees, and an article titled “9 positions to try on your first night”, and a Bentley and an apartment, the two gifts of dowry, which apparently are “light enough” for the bride to get away with. The banter is suddenly terminated with a banner –

 

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– which with a swift mood whiplash, brings us back to the realm of the red light. While each preceding segment has shown the various daily life injustices that they have to shut up and suck up, this segment is the one which truly depicts how such grievances are not only accepted, but even normalized in the functioning of the society. These women don’t really realize that something is wrong. Just because they don’t know of any alternatives, they come to accept this as “just the way things are”.

 

GENERAL, UNWARRANTED OPINIONS

Even though women form the crux of this whole presentation, we realize after an internal debate that it really doesn’t revolve around feminism. The issues raised here are not arguing about the equal social, economical, political standing of all sexes, but rather it puts forth only the daily, annoyances at the least, struggles at the most, of women right here, right now.

Throughout the entire theatre, with the exception of a choice few men, the audience comprised entirely of ladies. This poses a problem as, even though the messages put forth are highly relevant and justified, are not really put in any doubt by any audience member.

Given the loud, often abrasive nature of this play, it would do it more justice to perform this as a street play, where one could grab some uncle or aunty who isn’t as accepting, and tell them, “Your daughter/sister rubs herself to Ryan Reynolds. What chu gonna do about it?” Their reaction, their outrage, their opinion and realization is really what will truly do justice to this performance.

Having said that, it also does an exceptional job of not resorting to simple misandry to make its point. At no point does anyone claim that all men are disgusting pigs who have been privileged for way too long and now deserve to be under their heels. No, it just highlights the propagation of these everyday injustices by the uncles and the aunties which need to be done away with.

 

PRODUCTION TEAM

Cast:

  1. Malvika Singh
  2. Arsh Dadwal
  3. Mrinal Yadav
  4. Shivani Behl
  5. Rashi Sharma
  6. Chaitali Pant
  7. Urjita Manan Bharadwaj
  8. Shikha Dimri
  9. Vrinda Sehgal
  10. Prakriti Anand

Sound operation:
Priyali Dhingra

Stage lighting:
Garima Lunia

Written and guided by:
Kuldeep Kunal

Directed by:
Sana Thapa

 

The play was covered by Sohil Vinayak, Ashmit Gautam, Nikita Sharma and Chaitali Pant.
Picture credits : Abhivyakti and Ashmit Gautam

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