Sexual revolution: The Indian adaptation of The Vagina Monologues turns 15 | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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Sexual revolution: The Indian adaptation of The Vagina Monologues turns 15

The Indian adaptation of The Vagina Monologues, the play that kickstarted a conversation on women’s sexuality and gender politics, turns 15 this year. Three members of the original cast share their memories of the journey

art and culture Updated: May 20, 2017 09:21 IST
(From left) Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, Avantika Akerkar and Dolly Thakore
(From left) Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, Avantika Akerkar and Dolly Thakore (Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)

Three women talking about vaginas — that’s the basic premise of the play, The Vagina Monologues. Originally written by American playwright and feminist Eve Ensler, it was first performed in 1996 in New York. It delved into sexual experiences, as well as issues pertaining to body image and genital mutilation, from the perspective of women.

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Its Indian debut happened in 2003 and was pioneered by actors Dolly Thakore, Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal and Avantika Akerkar. Over the last 15 years, it has been running to full houses in the city and travelling across the country.

We meet the trio at Kotwal’s Churchgate residence and the ladies share their experiences working for the production. Excerpts from the interview:

What makes the play relevant after all these years?

Akerkar: Whether you like it or not, everybody has spent nine months in close proximity to a vagina. It’s a very sad state of affairs that we live in a country that pays more attention to cows and their upkeep than women. In many ways, to constantly blame the government is also not correct. We need to have some kind of an awakening as to what is happening around us.
Kotwal: A lot of people still don’t understand what feminism means.
Akerkar: Yes, ‘feminism’ is a very misused word. A lot of people feel that vagina is a dirty word. That is their fallacy and ignorance. Vagina is the name of a biological part of the body of 50% of the world’s population. In the same way, feminism is not a dirty word.
Kotwal: With the play, we believe that we have managed to break a lot of taboos.
Akerkar: I think by now we have become a cult. There are people who have watched the play seven or eight times, and they sometimes tell us, “Oh, at the third staging of the play, you had done this scene this way, and that scene, that way.”

A performance of The Vagina Monologues

Has the script undergone any change over the years?
Kotwal: Initially, when we acquired the rights, Eve Ensler didn’t allow us to change the characters. We couldn’t have a Punjabi character or a Maharashtrian character. Parsi characters were the only ones she allowed. But when she came to India and saw the response we were getting, she allowed us to change the characters to an Indian context.
Akerkar: And the reason we wanted to do it was because we wanted to make the characters culturally contextual and relevant. With American characters, people would say, “Nice play, but…”. The characters wouldn’t resonate.

Considering the subject, what kind of reactions did you get from venues in the city?
Akerkar(laughs): Do we have to be polite?
Kotwal: NCPA doesn’t allow us.
Akerkar: Actually, back in the day, we did 20 shows at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). But all of a sudden, we became a “vulgar” show, and were banned. The play is about reality; how can one call it vulgar?
Kotwal: All the Catholic venues don’t allow us either — St Andrew’s Auditorium, Sophia Bhabha Auditorium…
Akerkar: We once did a successful show at Sophia’s though.
Thakore: Prithvi Theatre is still supportive; the last time we had a run there, we did seven shows in two days.
Akerkar: But it’s not just venues in the city. In Chennai, there was a court order against us.
Kotwal: They said we would be disturbing the law and order situation there.

The cast of The Vagina Monologues

What’s the one anecdote that comes to mind when you think of the play?
Kotwal: Once during a performance, somebody shouted, ‘Stop the play’. We were frightened that someone might have taken objection. We realised that an audience member had fallen on the floor crying. After the play was over, she told us that her sister was raped at the age of 10 by her uncle. The play brought back the memories.
Akerkar: A few months later, when we were performing in Delhi, the sister came to watch the play, and met us.

How has the play changed your lives?
Akerkar: I don’t call it a play anymore. It’s an experience. The way real-life experiences have been so sensitively woven together is brilliant.
Thakore: All our inhibitions have been shed. Now, we talk about everything under the sun.
Kotwal: We are not colleagues anymore.

The Vagina Monologues will be performed on May 20 and 21, 6pm
At Canvas Laugh Club, Lower Parel, from 6pm