Charumathi Claire Singh,a dance-theatre piece by Navtej Singh Johar,premieres in Chandigarh today
The title resonates of a fluidity and freedom that is integral to Navtej Singh Johars art. With his dance-theatre piece Charumathi Claire Singh,which is set to open in Chandigarh today,Johar is looking forward to bringing on stage a new language of dance and theatre one that will mix contexts,characters and texts. The title,explains Johar,is indicative of the various parts that he is made of. Charumathi represents the Bharatanatyam dancer who crossed over to find identity and resonance in Carnatic music,Tamil poetry and ethos. Claire is the name of one of the maids in the play. Singh is me as I am,a Punjabi,a Sikh,a male,just as much in love with my own Punjabi culture,poetry,music and most of all language, explains Johar.
Charumathi Claire Singh weaves two narratives,one inspired by The Maids,a play by Jean Genet,in which two maids engage in the daily ritual of impersonating their madam but at the same time are plotting to kill her.
The other is based on a generic life-narrative of the devadasis,who were dedicated to serve in temples and remained the main repositories of dance and music for over centuries in South India.
This piece has been commissioned by India Foundation for the Arts,and it was their suggestion that Johar premiere it in a place other than Delhi. To be staged on Tuesday evening as an initiative of the Chandigarh Sangeet Natak Akademi,Johar says Chandigarh was his first choice to stage the new piece. This is my hometown and I love the fact that I am premiering one of my very important works here, he says.
The work,explains Johar,who runs The Abhyas Trust Dance-Theater Initiative,stems from his deep sympathy with the devadasi community that was erased out of existence in the modern context. The devadasi system,adds the dancer,was complex as it was both spiritual and sensual and openly addressed the anxieties of sex,intimacy,human contact and existential loneliness. These highly learned women were entrenched in tradition,devoted to arts and rich repositories of music and dance. As a dancer,a lot of what I have inherited or what I am drawn to comes from their tradition and their families. So,in a way,this piece is a tribute to the devadasis who I feel were gravely wronged, asserts the dancer.
The two narratives,though distinct,have a common thread. Johar says he finds many similarities between the lives of maids and devadasis,as both lead a ghettoised existence,both impersonate and are condemned to remain outsiders. The maids find redemption and escape in death and violence,the dasis find flight in their sublime music, he adds.
Johar is the actor,director and dancer of the piece and agrees that it is challenging to be both inside and outside a piece. One drawback is that I cannot fully look at the details once I am inside and need to rely on others, he notes. As a dancer,he says,the piece locates itself in the margins and challenges the possibility of self-forgetfulness,a prerequisite for transformation within the self-conscious middle-class context. It also examines the choices male dancers make while taking up classical dance today, sums up Johar.
Charumathi Claire Singh will be staged at Tagore Theatre at 6.30 pm on July 31.