Taking pride in lavani

Dancing queens: Sangeet Bari is a crossover performance like no other, having transcended barriers of class, language, gender and cultural sensibilities.

Dancing queens: Sangeet Bari is a crossover performance like no other, having transcended barriers of class, language, gender and cultural sensibilities.  


Sangeet Bari’s latest edition transcends the notion of any one gender as the ‘other’, says Vikram Phukan

Travelling with the traditional queens of lavani to pastures anew for some years now, Kali Billi Productions bring back their hit show Sangeet Bari to South Mumbai this week with a queer twist to the tale in keeping with January’s ‘Pride Month’ festivities. The latter is a diverse itinerary of cultural events that mark the build-up to Mumbai’s Queer Azaadi March, scheduled for Febuary 2 this year. Some are part of an official calendar, while others join forces with the rainbow cause.

Transcending labels

The celebrations are perhaps a little below the radar outside queer circles, but at its best, Sangeet Bari is a crossover performance like no other, having transcended barriers of class, language, gender and cultural sensibilities over a run of more than 50 shows across Maharashtra and beyond. Usually staged in dialects of Marathi, for shows at the more cosmopolitan venues, like Prithvi Theatre or the NCPA (where it will be staged on Jan 25 at the capacious Tata Theatre), the documentary-style commentary that accompanies the proceedings will primarily be in Hindi, even as the delectable lavani recitals themselves will be performed in their original richly colloquial tongues.

Sangeet Bari brings to the experimental stage the unique grammar of the private baithaks in which the form has thrived for centuries, where professional chanteuses sang love songs to paying ‘customers’ for hours on end. Sangeet Bari has taken place in equally intimate venues, but for larger audiences at a time, yet there is always the flavour of an interaction that appears to be taking place one-on-one for some lucky members of the audience, who find themselves in the presence of the beloved, hitherto unknown but now entirely familiar.

Melodic seduction

A performer like Shakuntala Nagarkar is a rare Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee in the field of lavani. She is so well-versed in the art of melodic seduction, that her performance of vintage lavanis can seem like an completely improvised excursion into desire and passion, with its riffs and untempered spontaneity, even as she prolongs an interaction with a particularly captivated member of the audience. Pushpa Satarkar and Akansksha Kadam are the other performers who have emerged as stars in their own right in circles far removed from the conventional settings in which they perform.

In this edition, makers Savitri Medhatul and Bhushan Korgaonkar will introduce a new segment which features two male lavani dancers. Before the turn of the 19th century, while the sangeet bari strand of lavani performance had always been the preserve of women, public performances of lavani that took place as part of tamaasha (Maharashtrian folk theatre) spectacles, featured men in female roles. As women entered the fray, the men fell out of favour, a denouement similar to the fate that befell female impersonators in Marathi natya sangeet (musical theatre). Around 2000, the trend of Bin Baykancha Tamaasha (literally, a performance without women) burst unto the Marathi cultural scene. Despite the initial euphoria, this has petered down to a few sporadic shows annually, but it engendered an entire cult of male lavani performers, who perform in traditional female regalia, and are virtually women to audiences still comprised largely of men. While introducing us to this history, Sangeet Bari will showcase the performers Anand Satam and Ashimik Kamthe. Satam was a member of a pioneering bin baykancha group.

Celebration in symmetry

Kali Billi’s latest show, which premiered at the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, was called Lavani Queens, and featured a dance ensemble that comprised of both male and female dancer, dressed in identical attire. For Medhatul and Korgaonkar, mounting a production in the mien of a banner show — tamaasha spectacles in urban arenas — in a large proscenium was a steep learning curve. The subtleties of baithak lavani, which still visible, had to be complemented with colours, costumes and adroit choreography. For those in attendance, including this writer, it was a celebration in symmetry. At the outset, one might be induced into playing a guessing game about a performer’s gender, but the performance soon transcended the notion of any one gender as the ‘other’. In the wonderfully synchronised dance set-pieces, all that remained were shared identities, common skills, and bodies in an integrated rhythm.

Sangeet Bari will be staged at NCPA, Nariman Point, on January 25, 7 p.m; see for details

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 2:23:53 PM |

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