Private Matters - an event report

Team Culture Lab

3 January 2017

An event report
An event report

In a talk aptly titled Private Matters – Politics and Sexuality in Performance, the Culture Lab collaborated with Dance Dialogues to organise a panel discussion comprising choreographer and managing director of Gati Dance Forum Mandeep Raikhy, Dancing Queens founding member Urmi Jadhav and Sonal Giani of Agents of Ishq fame. They deliberated on how they explored their socio-political ideologies through their art. The three-part event began with a short clip from Queen Size, panelist Mandeep Raikhy’s provocative dance piece.  It was followed by a forty minute panel discussion moderated by the Culture Lab’s own Parmesh Shahani and a Q&A session where the panelists addressed questions from the audience.

On resisting mainstream                                                                                                                              Parmesh opened the discussion by posing a question to each panelist about how their work contributes towards resisting the mainstream through the medium of art. Urmi, who has been at the helm of the transgender-led dance troupe Dancing Queens since 2009, addressed the problem in a manner that is truly inclusive. When they started Dancing Queens, they didn’t limit themselves to only the transgender community. They went beyond the community and included people from other marginalised groups too. The Dancing Queens also performed at the Lab in 2015, to a packed hall. Watch it here. She also expressed her openness and desire to work in synergy with the mainstream. This she believes will help dispel some of the stigmas and stereotypes associated with the LGBT community.

Sonal believes that being out becomes a statement in itself and thereby a resistance to everything mainstream.  She also bemoaned the fact that conversations about sex occur in a negative space with talks about rape, violence and diseases. Speaking about her association with Paromita Vohra’s Agents of Ishq, (who spoke about desire and communication technology at this talk at the Lab) a multimedia project that initiates positive dialogues on sex and desire, she said, “The fact that Paromita has created a space like this and the fact that it exists is in itself a form of resistance.”

Mandeep’s chosen form of dissent was his dance piece Queen Size which was conceptualised during the time of Award Wapsi. He was particularly upset by the nonchalance of his own compatriots from the field of dance who seemed reluctant to be a part of the rising dissent against injustices in the country. He said, “Was it possible for me as a dance practitioner to respond and be able to assert identity at this time where space for dissent was shrinking?” Centred on themes of intimacy, privacy and spectatorship, Queen Size thus became a vehicle for its creator’s dissent especially in the aftermath of the Supreme Court‘s overturning of the Delhi High Court’s verdict on section 377.

On putting the private into the public
More pointed questions were posed by Parmesh who quizzed the panellists on the importance of outing one’s private life to the public. Urmi recounted an instance where she and her troupe were harangued by the show organisers about their costumes, expecting them to abide by the standards of decency. “Unka soch hain ki yeh log kuch karenge toh gandagi phailake rakhenge,” (They believe that we will be up to something wrong no matter what we do) she said of the prevalent hypocrisy.

For Sonal, the hypernormalisation of heterosexuality and the other-ing of any other type of sexual orientation is the reason why she feels that it is imperative to come out and express her opinions. “If I don’t come out, there will be a blanket assumption that everybody in the audience is heterosexual,” she said grimly.  Mandeep who was influenced by Nishit Saran’s essay Why my bedroom habits are your businesses made a case for blurring the lines between the private. He slammed those who talk of tolerating homosexuality as long as it happened behind closed doors.  “My bedroom habits are your business till the time we (LGBT community) have equal rights,” he said.

Myriad perspectives
The panelists also discussed the relevance of spectators, and the importance of visibility and right representation to create greater awareness among the people.  They spoke about how television shows like Big Boss routinely feature celebrities who could do more harm than good towards normalising homosexuality. However, Parmesh differed with panelists Mandeep and Urmi who criticised the 2010 film Dostana and the self-effacing director of the film Karan Johar for painting a very perverse and a farcical picture of homosexuality. Highlighting the theme of acceptance in the movie Dostana, Parmesh pointed out that it was rather beautiful that the filmmakers used the language Indians can understand through the familiar trope of the Bollywood mother who accepts her gay “bahu”. Karan Johar is a powerful gay icon according to Parmesh. 

The Q&A session that followed saw the audience quiz the panelists on diverse topics such as the hypocrisy they face on a daily basis and the difference in attitudes they sense in the metros and rural areas. The session continued over thematically named snacks such as ‘Straight as Jalebi’, ‘Pride Pakoras’ and ‘Queen Sized Pizzas’ where the panelists addressed more questions from the audience members.