Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan , as its director, Dhwani Vij says is not a declaration but an articulation of the performers’ lives. In it, four Muslim teenage girls from Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti, share their everyday stories that explore ideas like identity, gender, caste, consent and sexuality. The performance looks at how it affects their understanding of self and how the aspect of listening to stories of the self, affect the audience and their relationship with the performance itself. Dhwani Vij attempts to answer a few questions:
At the core of Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan is an exploration of identity. What inspired that idea?
The project began with a proposal to Gender Bender, a festival curated by Sandbox Collective and the Goethe-Institut, Bengaluru, submitted by Aagaaz Theatre Trust. At the heart of Aagaaz’s practice is the need to develop a deeper understanding of the self — and the self’s relationship with the immediate society and the world at large. The proposal (with a working title — Urban Turban) was to create a physical theatre piece that engaged with the experience of the cityscape in relation to the space occupied by men versus that occupied by women. The idea was to look at the intersectionality of gender, religion and class that inhabits the bodies of the actors situated within Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti. I was approached by Aagaaz to direct a piece based on this proposal which was later selected for Gender Bender 2016.
How did it evolve further?
The o rganisation has been engaging with children from the Basti since 2009 using drama (the journey began with Aga Khan Foundation’s Urban Renewal Initiative and took life of its own in 2015) and the repertory of young actors, has been performing professionally since 2015. For the repertory members of Aagaaz, the discussion would come back to the identity of the actors — poor, Muslim children. Even with their previous production Raavan Aaya (directed by Neel Sengupta), conversations would quickly gloss over the rich discourse of the narrative — to Nizamuddinki bechaari ladkiyan , and “oh! how sorry we feel for them”. No matter how they tried to steer the conversation — we would get stuck in the rut of identities. It was frustrating in the very least, which is what prompted Aagaaz to write the initial concept note which became Urban Turban and then Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan . What does it mean to be a lower class, Muslim girl, practicing theatre in Delhi? Do the experiences transcend their identities? What are the negotiations between their self and the spaces they occupy, personal and public?
What went into the choice of the four actors?
I ho nestly did not begin with a lot of fixed ideas. As we proceeded, I decided to work with only female actors . As we began workshop processes with two of the actors — Jasmine and Nagina — the piece began to develop through personal narratives. Subsequently, we looked at the piece again in 2017 with Nagma, and after receiving the Refunction grant by Goethe-Institut, Delhi in 2018 with Zainab.
What was the process behind gearing the actors towards the performance?
A lot of our process involved sharing of personal stories, finding commonalities in them and exploring their differences. The actors’ engagement with Darpan — a space within Aagaaz that creates possibilities to look at issues of gender, sexuality, relationships, has been feeding into the stories that the actors brought into the rehearsal space. We struggled with the concept of remaining “true” to one’s body on stage and through several performances found our comfort in it. Every performance reveals a new aspect of this understanding.
What is the dynamic like when the performers are so closely connected with the performance? How does it affect their performance itself?
One of the very obvious effect is on the stories. The stories keep changing with each subsequent show because they are linked directly to the lives of the performers. As life changes, the stories change, and with that the performance itself changes.
Why did you decide for the performance to be placed in an intimate context?
Given the private nature of the stories, the space where they are shared needed to be an intimate one.
Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan will be staged on August 24 and 25 at 4.30 pm and 7.30 pm in Goethe-Institut, Chennai