Waman Kendre’s “No Sex Please” which is based on “Lysistrata”, a powerful commentary on women’s empowerment and wars, deviates from the original to stand as a unique production

Waman Kendre’s productions are admired for their artistic quality and social relevance. In his works there is a distinct flavour of Indian performing art forms and martial arts. He treats human issues with remarkable sensitivity. Among his much applauded works include “Jaaneman” (2002) — he did for the Repertory Company of National School Of Drama — which was adjudged one of the best 10 productions of the year by Sahitya Kala Parishad. Winner of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2012 for his contribution to Indian theatre as a director, his latest offering is “No Sex Please” in Hindi which was presented by Rangpeeth, Mumbai at the festival of Akademi’s fellows and awardees at Shri Ram Centre last week. The production is visually elegant, aurally thrilling, illustrating anti-war thesis in a unique comic vein. It offers the discerning audience of the Capital an interesting, lively and educative evening.

Based on “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes (c.448-c. 380 BC), Greek comic dramatist, the Hindi script is written by Waman. The original play is a comic comment on war between Athens and Sparta fought nearly 2500 years ago which brought about disaster to both the countries. The worst sufferers were women; some had lost husbands and some had sons. The women of the vanquished country were arrested and forced to become sex slaves. Against the background of this bloody and senseless war, the women of Athens unite themselves to oppose war, demanding reconciliation between the warring nations. Lysistrata is the leader of this movement who convinces “women to refuse sex with their husbands until a treaty for peace has been signed.”

Waman has given his script Indian colour, using Indian musical tunes, costumes and Indian names to characters. The action is set in an unidentified Indian Kingdom. In the original play there are two choruses — the chorus of old women and another by old men. The action unfolds through the interplay of these two choruses. In Waman’s version there is only one chorus formed by women. Apart from singing lyrics, these women participate in the action. They are bold enough to confront their husbands as well as argue their case for peace in a forceful manner with the king, stressing their demand for peace and peaceful co-existence between nations following different political systems. Resorting to clever, funny and playful manoeuvring, they resist their husbands’ sexual advances. In protest their husbands, who are just back from war, go to brothels. The sex workers have also joined the broad peace movement of women and refuse to serve them. The humiliated and insulted men go to the king and request him to put an end to aggressive wars. The king is powerful, a war-monger and obsessed with his morbid desire to expand his kingdom, plundering the wealth of the defeated countries and making their women slaves. He finds himself in an embarrassing situation when his queen expresses her solidarity with the struggle of the women.

A few years ago an Urdu version of this play came from Karachi. It was presented under the direction of Pakistan’s eminent theatre artist Seema which was noteworthy for its spicy dialogues and bold acting by female performers. The production made a forceful plea for peace.

Waman is a complete theatre artiste. His music has variety, lively tunes and full of life. The lyrics are rendered by the chorus in mellow voices. Chorus occupies dominant place in his production. The aesthetically designed costumes impart beautiful shades of variety of colours. The choreographic patterns are all woven into the basic structure of the production. The highlight of Waman’s production is that it has enhanced its contemporary appeal by using slide projections on the screen, briefly depicting the images of horrors of two World Wars and the bloodshed being caused by conventional medieval wars. Upstage a raised structure with stairs to ascend and descend is created. This raised stage is used only by the king. The centre stage and down stage with no property are used by performers, forming a variety of stage compositions in an effortless manner.

Though Aristophanes had highlighted the need for women-power and their place in society in “Lysistrata” and The Parliament of Women, Waman gives his production a powerful edge to the need for the empowerment of women, exposing misogynistic attitude of the soldiers. The chorus is aptly supported by a large number of instrumentalists and vocalists.

The cast gives a brilliant account of itself as dancer, singer and comic actor. Mohit Sharma’s power-hungry king who delights in going to wars frequently to expand his kingdom makes his portrait eminently comic. Renuka Bodhankar as the leader (Lysistrata) is notable for displaying verbal wit and buoyancy.