The play Be-loved opens up heart-warming conversations about queerness

Directed by Sapan Saran, the mostly Hindi play employs song, dance and humour to depict the complexities of love.

Updated - May 17, 2024 01:06 pm IST

Published - May 13, 2024 05:10 pm IST

Sapan Saran’s Be-loved

Sapan Saran’s Be-loved | Photo Credit: Courtesy: Adishakti Theatre

Let’s start at the end. When Be-loved (a play that threw together a montage of queer love stories set firmly in the Indian context) ended on the fifth day of the Remembering Veenapani Festival at Adishakti Theatre, Auroville, the applause would not stop. It was a while before the cast and crew could be introduced. The mostly Hindi play was well-received by the audience though it did not carry a single subtitle in any language.

Be-loved was much loved. It’s difficult to pinpoint which elements worked more towards the play’s effectiveness. The right on cue, live music held together the many narrative strands running through the play, like the spine of a book.

The cohesive, sprightly energy of the actors made the characters come alive and feel familiar. Well-composed scenes, movement choreographies that flowed and excellently rendered songs (by the actors and two musicians who played crucial roles in the storytelling) — all added to the play’s success.

Be-loved began on a heart-winning note as the actors paid a musical tribute to all the writers and poets whose works have been used in the play. The way it portrayed coming out stories and the attempts to make it to happily ever after (even after many heartbreaks) made for a warm, vibrant patch-work quilt of love stories.

The play skillfully employed song, dance and humour to explore the question — why is love so heartbreaking? It depicted the complexity and willfulness of love, besides its ability to shake up relationships — inside and out. It showed how desire plays out, or would play out, if it weren’t given such bad press in society, while keeping the audience emotionally in tune and mostly laughing with it.

‘Be-loved’ aims to create its own framework of queerness.

‘Be-loved’ aims to create its own framework of queerness. | Photo Credit: Courtesy: Adishakti Theatre

A Tamasha Theatre production, Be-loved “has been built in a hugely collaborative way,” says Sapan Saran, the director. Having come across an abundance of stories of “courage, hope, belonging, passion, love and loss,” at the research stage, she particularly sought to delve into “the experience of Indian queerness.” Aspiring to depict its many shades in all fullness — where “vulnerability and desire could sit next to loss, wit and satire,” she put together an ensemble of “multi-skilled performers.” She says, “We knew we had to celebrate queerness by embracing it in its entirety with all its joys, confusions, contradictions and strengths. We had to share these stories not as victims but as human beings — flawed yet complete – like everyone else.”

The playmaking process involved “reading, sharing, open discussions, language training, movement training, ensemble work, object theatre training, listening to personal stories, a whole lot of text analysis and deconstruction, music making and learning, and hours spent on the floor ideating, mulling, thinking, dreaming and hoping together,” says Sapan. Much importance was given to creating “a space that was open and safe for everyone, where we could unabashedly be ourselves, a space that did not ever ask — “are you queer?” but silently understood and respected boundaries” she adds.

The intent was to make a play that “created its own framework of queerness,” she says, adding that, “the process had to put to practice what it hoped to achieve through the production: ask for a world that respects individual freedom and collective diversity.”

Music plays a significant role in ‘Be-loved’.

Music plays a significant role in ‘Be-loved’. | Photo Credit: Courtesy: Adishakti Theatre

Music is almost a character in this play. Describing its making, Sapan says that the selected and written text of the play seemed to choose the musical genres and forms that would best present their nuances. “Mohit Agarwal transformed Josh Malihabadi’s ghazal into a throbbing qawwali. Amod Bhatt has composed the Nandi dedicated to writers, which combines traditional elements of folk performances with a unique contemporary touch. Rohit Das brings with him years of theatre music experience and has composed (and played) music for several pieces in the play. He was accompanied by Ritesh Malaney on percussion,” Sapan says.

Speaking about the response to the play in different venues and cities, she says that though the experience of viewing is subjective, there have been several moving responses. “To many, Be-loved has become a kind of a coming-out-to-the-family play. They hope their parents will watch the play and understand them better.” A girl sent her parents to watch the play without her. This opened up space for the family to have their first ever “warm, open conversation about queerness,” says Sapan. “In Baroda, we performed to an audience that comprised allies and queer communities. Several trans people from nearby villages attended the show and there was a fabulous post show interaction between them and the team,” shares Sapan. While she believes that theatre can create activists, she hopes that a play like Be-loved can make “shifts in a collective space”.

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