After reading the book “Why Loiter” by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade, Neha Singh decided she wanted to take its message a step further. Singh and her friends began actively loitering at chai stalls, public parks and roads during the day and night, trying to encourage women to claim public spaces as much as males do. Their activities invited unsolicited advice, warnings, patronising comments and even some positive messages of support.
Satchit Puranik, a theatre director, saw some photos of Singh’s “Why Loiter” outings and wanted to join her. However, the obvious problem of a male member in the group meant that Singh had to deny him a spot. Then Puranik offered to cross-dress and loiter as a woman. His own unusual experiences inspired him to turn the movement into a docudrama about real women’s experiences with loitering. “The play has caught the essence of the movement,” says Singh. “It’s not preachy; nor does it portray the women as victims”.
Loitering will premiere on March 8 as part of NCPA Edge, a new interactive series by the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai. The initiative, which will commission plays on contemporary matters, also wants to reach out to newer and smaller alternative venues. Over the last decade, venues such as pubs, cafes, art galleries and restaurants have started to host theatre productions, driven by a mounting demand for live entertainment. Another reason is the lack of space available to host an increasing amount of theatre productions in the city; Deepa Gahlot, the head of theatre and film programming at the NCPA, says that there is more content than there are venues.
But the bigger reason for the move away from traditional venues has to do with the greater intimacy that exists in smaller and more local spaces, according to Gahlot. “People are able to engage with the performers and directors after the end of the show, start debates, explore issues,” she says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity at the community level. These new venues also mean that like-minded people don’t have to travel too far from their homes or places of work to build sustainable relationships with each other and people in theatre,” she adds.
Eager to be a part of the movement, Gahlot thought up NCPA Edge which will become a permanent feature of the NCPA. The plays, of which there will be at least one every quarter, will focus on contemporary issues in Indian society. Loitering and The Way I See It, the two performances that will take place on opening day, which is also International Women’s Day, address female perspectives and women’s issues.
Loitering, being a docudrama, veers from what the typical audience is used to. “It is more about retelling the characters’ stories rather than creating new ones,” says Puranik. “Theatre is usually about entertainment, drama or conflict, but people speaking about their lives has a charm that irreplaceable”. In the same spirit that NCPA Edge has been formed, Puranik is planning to take the play to unconventional spaces such as colleges or NGOs, confident that people will be able to better connect with the play and its performers in these spaces.
Divya Jagdale is of the same mind. She is performing in the one-woman play, The Way I See It, written and directed by her husband, Shiv Subramaniam. The Way I See It is a hilarious take on love, life and politics as seen through the eyes of a 40-something woman from Mumbai. After her performance at the NCPA, Jagdale hopes to bring the play to alternative venues such as the Bluebot Gaming and Cyber Cafe in Girgaum and the Barking Deer Brewery in Lower Parel. She believes that the play’s standup format will appeal to the young and savvy audience usually found in such venues.
“Different types of plays necessitate, or can be most effective, in specific settings that best suit their style. These alternative venues end up opening up more opportunities for performers,” says Jagdale. “Also, there’s the simple fact that you don’t get dates at traditional venues,” Jagdale adds, echoing Gahlot’s concerns about the lack of space given the number of theatre productions happening nowadays.
Gahlot believes that theatre, more than TV or film, is the best means for addressing social and contemporary issues. That’s why NCPA Edge has become important to her. “In cinema, the economics of the business does not allow for experimentation. Theatre, on the other hand, can take chances. We will be showing plays that have the ability to drive and shape people’s opinions,” she says.