Theatre

Gender games

more-in

A new play about Mahabharat’s Hidima, is a subversive if self-referential take on an age-old tale, says Vikram Phukan

A fairly new theatre group from Bengaluru, the Big Fat Company (BFC), arrives in Mumbai this week with their new show, Name The Game. This is only their second production after the Hayavadana-inspired Head 2 Head, a play that attracted attention not only because of its spirited and unapologetically plus-size ensemble, but also its subversive if self-referential take on an age-old tale that pits physical beauty with intelligence as ostensibly indelible markers of identity. The BFC was formed by 2017 by theatre practitioners who wanted to challenge conventional aesthetics, including but not limited to body size.

Freedom to experiment

Their new devised play is a collaboration between writer Shreekanth Rao and performer Anuradha HR, and treads along similar lines, but expands the turf to include compelling new contexts of gender and caste by unearthing an ancillary tale from the Mahabharata – that of Hidimba (also called Hidimbi in some versions of the epic), the so-called ‘demoness’ consort of Bhima. Its blurb reinforces a Brechtian notion of sorts, “The idea of using such archetypal tales stems from the fact that [these] stories afford [psychological] distancing and therefore [engage] the audience without the emotional baggage of personal experience.” The project is supported by Zubaan Books’ Stepping Stones project, an endeavour that seeks to utilise theatre, art or poetry to create open, transformatory dialogues with the youth on understanding structures of sexual violence and impunity. “Mythology also gives us a lot of freedom to play around with perspectives,” says Anuradha, who felt that several aspects of Hidimba’s story resonated with BFC’s area of interest of challenging gender stereotypes of body image. For instance, Hidimba’s transforming herself into a celestially beautiful woman in order to woo Bhima. “The way we gaze at gender has a direct bearing on gender-based violence,” explains Anuradha.

In its current version, Name The Game is roughly a 30-minute performance that is followed by an interaction with the audience, in keeping with the Stepping Stones brief. The makers have kept the work deliberately unresolved, hoping its work-in-progress feel will allow a feedback loop to be activated with audiences. “We are developing it into an hour-long performance that will include Bhima’s situation as well. When the perspectives open up, grey areas get highlighted,” emphasises Anuradha. This feeds into BFC’s commitment to being gender-neutral — one of their projects deals with the objectification of men on dating apps.

Keeping it relevant

Depicted invariably as a bronzed persona with a brawny physique, Bhima seems caged in equally self-limiting ways, as echoed in the culture of masculine narcissism that is clogging social media these days. Anuradha will take on the parts of both Hidimba and Bhima in the extended version. Even now, the constant shifts between persona and self in a piece in which she speaks directly to the audience has been enriching to her as a performer. “Placing my body into the performance as a plus-size person was also a key point of interest and challenge,” she says.

The piece was initially called Hidimba, after its beleaguered protagonist, but as Anuradha explains, the makers felt that, “The performance is more about the larger constructs of what dictates what Hidimba or Bhima do.” They seemed like unwitting players in a much more insidious game of gender and hierarchies, which is what is signified by the title of the play. As Rao explains, “Discovering the game and its rules, which pervades the Mahabharata, gives us insight in how we might adapt to it in real life.”

Different interpretations of the epic give us different outcomes to Hidimba’s story after Bhima left (returning years later only to claim son Ghatotkacha). In a Kannada version, she takes on several partners, not bound to the rules of a game that a Draupadi or Subhadra might find themselves tethered to. This agency is something that Rao wanted to tap into in Name the Game.

Hidima (Name the Game) will be staged on January 17 at Harkat Studios at 7.30 p.m. and January 18 at Piroja Studio at 7 p.m. (check Facebook)

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics Theatre
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 7:49:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/gender-games/article30578151.ece

Next Story