Dance

An intimate entanglement

A remonstration through dance: Dancer-choreographer Mandeep Raikhy has two men engage with each other over a charpai in he performance.  

The bedroom is supposed to be private, and all its activities ought to remain entirely hidden from public eye. And yet, governments around the world including ours, unfortunately, make it their business to know what’s going on behind closed doors. This is in direct reference, of course, to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (which dates back to 1860) that criminalises “unnatural” sex. The Section’s purview could be anything from same-sex relations to whatever the government sees fit to suit their understanding of propriety. It’s left to us, then, to explore different avenues of protest, sometimes in the form of art and creativity.

Dancer-choreographer Mandeep Raikhy’s mode of remonstration comes in the form of dance. Raikhy’s latest effort, Queen Size, which has been touring the country for several months, is a contemporary performance that’s a direct response to the oppressive Section 377. The theatrical piece has been inspired by late gay activist Nishit Saran’s article ‘Why My Bedroom Habits Are Your Business’, which was published in The Indian Express in 2000. It seems that 16 years later, nothing has changed and the discourse continues, albeit through different mediums.

A moving effort

In Queen Size, Raikhy has two men engage with each other over a charpai. The two dancers, Lalit Khatana and Parinay Mehra, eagerly invite the audience to experience and be part of (although merely as spectators) their characters’ relationship and lovemaking. “This is my third project with Mandeep, and I was struggling for months with the show,” says Khatana, a 31-year-old Gurgaon lad whose entire family has devoted their lives to the Indian Army. “I struggled with touching a man, a gay man; to feel emotions towards a man. It was hard for me to get into the zone,” he says. Khatana is a dancer who never got his bachelor’s degree, but managed to snag a master’s degree with a scholarship from the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance. His foray into dance, by his own admission, was random. “How could I call myself an artiste if I could perform naked in Europe, but not clothed with a man in India?” he says.

Sharing the charpai with Khatana is 31-year-old Mehra from Delhi, who was always interested in dance. Mehra studied at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in 2008, trained in London for five years, acquiring two post-graduate diplomas along the way. For Mehra, sexual orientation is a deeply personal matter, something that isn’t so much a part of a community or group. “The best and worst parts about Queen Size are both, its duration and structure. Both are challenging to execute, but it’s something that makes me develop and push my craft as a professional dancer,” he says.

In a trance

Spanning a little over two hours, Queen Size comprises three loops, each approximately 45 minutes in length. Audience members are invited to step in and out as they please, enabling the maximum number of attendees a venue can accommodate to get in. “Each loopmay seem the same, but we improvise,” says Khatana. “Of course, the audience is seeing something repetitive, but it’s the movements and the emotions that are fresh.” Through a non-linear narrative, Mehra and Khatana use their bodies to simulate a relationship between two men. Each movement, thrust, shift and touch seeks to convey the emotional, physical and spiritual connection between lovers. The dance ranges from intimate to frenetic and even sensual, stopping before it becomes provocative or titillating. “When I start the performance, I am a different person and when the first person enters, I cease to be Lalit,” says Khatana explaining that each show of Queen Size is a mesmerising experience that’s transformative. “It’s a trance and I can’t even describe the feeling.”

The audience is pretty much ‘allowed’ to move as they please, which makes Queen Size all the more difficult for the dancers. It’s hard enough concentrating without an audience, and they have to deal with one that’s mobile and closely scrutinising their movements. “That’s why we went to school,” says Khatana. “To learn to focus. It’s very emotional, but the audience is also performing. I like to think of myself as the viewer of [the audience] performing [responding to] their eyes.”

Surrendering to craft

Neither of the dancers look at Queen Size as a response to something they feel strongly about. As thorough professionals executing their craft at the behest of choreographer Raikhy, both prefer to view their parts as tribute to their passion. While Khatana did admit to being part of a milieu back home in Gurgaon that would react aggressively to the presence of queer people, he’s now changed. “I don’t want to lie and say it’s close to my heart. But they are part of our community and they have every right to be. In that sense, I am kind of with them.” On the other hand, Mehra prefers a rather personal and private approach, one that requires universal acceptance and respect. “I believe in a person’s life being personal and individual,” he says.

To some, watching Queen Size will perhaps be uncomfortable; it challenges hetero-social norms and, at the same time, engages in a subject that Indian society finds uncomfortable regardless of gender: physical intimacy. Watching two men, two human beings enact an activity so natural, but otherwise taboo, might just be the show we require to question our own perception of sex, sexuality and gender. And for those unwilling to delve so deep, the contemporary dance show will nonetheless be something they’ve never experienced before.

Queen Size will take place at Sitara Studio 7 p.m. onwards today and at Harkat Studios 7 p.m. onwards tomorrow. Entry will be at half-hour intervals. Details on bookmyshow.com


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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 1:57:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/An-intimate-entanglement/article16785622.ece

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