Greek comedy examines social divisions, women’s sexuality

‘Lysistrata’, staged in the city recently, attempted to give a voice to women who never assert their freedom of desire or sexuality
Last Updated : 03 March 2020, 14:42 IST

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Lysistrata, written by Aristophanes, is a sex comedy set in Athens of 411 BCE. Bengaluru-based theatre troupe Chandrato Collective, led by director Sri Vamsi Matta, recently adapted and presented this story in an Indian context.
In addition to women asserting their sexual autonomy, this version focuses on the unrecognised, yet crucial role of domestic labour in the upkeep of the socio-economic infrastructure.

In an interview with Metrolife, Sri Vamsi Matta spoke about the challenges involved in adapting such a tough subject into a play.

What challenges did you face?

Contextualising the story was a major challenge our writer faced. In a country where even talking about sex is often a big taboo for women, we felt that such a story would provide a refreshing new perspective. The play talks of the power that asserting sexual autonomy can bring.

We also thought it would be an interesting exercise to explore the cultural differences between ancient Greece and modern, rural India -- one of our challenges was to bridge this gap through the play and the characters.

The play was narrated through verses, songs, and rustic aphorisms. How did you weave all of these together?

We wanted to use a relatable yet ribald and folksy style of storytelling, with verses and songs to explain to the audience the relevance and universality of the theme. Once we decided Bihar as the location for our play and the time period as the 60s-70s, we started looking at the music of that time and place.

There was a lot of music available but the major challenge was to find the ones to fit our adaptation. We were heavily inspired by the native forms of theatre like ‘Naach’and ‘Nautanki”, famous in and around UP and Bihar. We got new verses written and people from around the area helped us in modifying the language while keeping the relevance intact.

How did you manage to handle such sensitive subjects, such as women asserting their sexuality, with ease? How often in India do we talk about women and their sexuality?

Not very often. Many women still have no sexual agency inside their own culture. All credit goes to our writer, Sanjna Banerjee, who has adapted the play. We took care to not fall into the trap of being crass. Instead, we wished to be thought-provoking. We gave a voice to thosethe women who never assert their freedom of desire, sexuality or even consent.

How did you manage to retain the relevance of the play?

Though an ancient Greek comedy, the play’s theme is highly relevant to the current context in our country, and around the world. The challenge was to maintain the bold, often times crude, humour of the original text while painting an empathetic and nuanced picture of the challenges that rural women in conflicted areas of our country live with. In our adaptation, we also tried to examine sectional divides within their own gender. Though we maintained the brash and comic style of the play, we focussed on what it takes to be a woman and getting heard, in an (apparently northern, but representative) Indian village.

Published 03 March 2020, 14:19 IST

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