“DJ Billi really changed my life / She is like, I am not just a sister, mother or wife / I am like a cat unto my own right,” raps 31-year-old Deepika Arwind on stage of the recently concluded Old World Theatre Festival at New Delhi’s Indian Habitat centre.
Time and again, women have been dealing with misogynistic culture everywhere. Often women have been subjected to different standards than men. Their decision-making and independence have resulted in repulsive act of gender bias. Putting all these elements together, Arwind tries to spark a conversation on the implicit instances of misogyny a woman encounters in her routine life. How sometimes misogyny lies underneath the delusional phrase of “being protected” by a father, a brother, a boyfriend or – for that matter – even a stranger.
In an hour-long performance ‘No rest in the kingdom,’ her act centred around four characters — a brother (1), who is concerned about the “good guy” dropping his sister late at night or a stranger who takes offense to a woman denying his offer for drop home at night; an emotionally oppressed girlfriend (2); a liberal professor who ends up unravelling his barbaric misogyny at a conference (3); and a feline character referring to woman in popular culture (4).
“Sometimes misogyny is disguised in form of a well-meaning dialogue; despite a progressive outlook, people say deeply misogynistic things. I wanted to portray the perception from where I inhabit and through this piece I’ve tried to play the offender in some case,” says Arwind, whose play specifically centres around the urban populace.
The social conditioning of society has always “allowed” men to oppress women, while restricting women from fighting back and accept a submissive role, just like the third character in the one-woman play. That of the girl who “chooses” to be oppressed by her boyfriend. She ‘justifies’ the assault and insult, undermining her own dignity so as to not hurt his ego – representative of the patriarchal society, or the ‘Kingdom’ in Arwind’s narrative.
The Bangalore-based playwright-actor says, “the negotiations of misogyny differ across class, caste, and race”, with no rest or respite “for the woman, who is always assumed to be in a protected blanket by men filled with sexism and misogyny.”
Arwind’s portrayal through her powerful devised performance is relatable. Packed with humour and vignettes of misogyny we tend to ignore in our daily lives, the play is a collection of personal and shared experiences. “Talking it out is the solution. A conversation is needed to be raised and discussed until we actually live in a free world where men and women are equal,” she says, having created a performance that acts as that very conversation.
Produced by Sandbox Collective and supported by Shoonya Centre of Arts and Somatic Practices, “No Rest in the Kingdom has made people laugh a lot, sometimes as they feel distressed and uncomfortable, ask questions of each other, and generally find a way in to talk about the gendered aggressions they see around them. It did start out to be a conversation through performance, and that’s what has been most interesting to watch,” Arwind explains.
Known for her gender-specific plays, including ‘A brief history of your hair’, ‘No rest in the kingdom’ is being hailed as her finest, across the country. The young thespian is now all set to take on the global stage, starting with Sri Lanka, at the Women of the World Festival, in December.