Margins to centrestage

December 25, 2016

Teesri Dhun at Alhamra Lahore provided an insight into the challenging lives of transgenders through powerful performances

Margins to centrestage

The labelling of Teesri Dhun as a documentary theatre in the brochure distributed before the show put the performance in its proper context. At best, it was to be seen as an enactment of the various episodes that marked the lives of people who cannot strictly be called men or women. It thus made the viewing of the play pleasant.

The humans have tried to come to terms with people not born to the two genders that can reproduce. For some time it was thought to be the Nature’s wrong that ought to be rectified or its tragic edge blunted by the advances made in civilisation. For centuries, there have been either prejudices that have coalesced into taboos or strictures that have left no place for such people except outside of the social order. Their acceptance in society too is highly qualified, their scope of labour extremely limited -- always wrapped in derision and dismissive banter.

But now that the world even in areas like ours is waking up to this sad treatment, the need to correct is thus a welcome gesture even if theatre is used as a mere vehicle for it. Theatre can create awareness about making these people useful members of society and not be left at the farthest end of abuse and rejection without any recourse to any remedial action. It is primarily the prejudice that is embedded in societal mores that needs to be dealt with -- the rest like laws and procedures can follow.

Teesri Dhun was thus a bold attempt at bringing forth the issues; it was bolder still that all the cast of the play comprised transgenders themselves. They acquitted themselves well with singing and dancing which has been the assigned role for them in society.

The production of the play was well-conceived because it was in the shape of various episodes where each character came on stage -- either alone or with other friends/companions, narrated their life story consisting of some of the most important events or incidents in their lives. The main thrust was on singing and dancing; being rudimentary, it is not always in the most refined manner nor does it achieve a high artistic status. No such emphasis has been put on it to make it a performance that can be appreciated and possibly sold with a very high price tag. These rudimentary skills at singing and dancing have narrowed down their social role to performing at marriage ceremonies and births of children for meagre returns.

The concerns of transgenders are the same as those of other human beings -- the desire to be loved, the wish to belong, the need to be part of the mainstream community and worst to survive.

The same format had been kept in all the stories of these transgenders; and needless to say that these were heartbreaking and kept one wondering about what to do and how to possibly find a societal solution for it.

Of course, the concerns of transgenders are the same as those of other human beings -- the desire to be loved, the wish to belong, the need to be part of the mainstream community and worst to survive -- but then these are all thwarted. Any move to do so on their part is seen as abuse -- a subversion of values and violation of the law.

But the interesting aspect of production was that it played around with the forms of expression that are associated with these transgenders. It was a heady mixture of popular music composition, mostly drawn from the popular film hits and also the dialogue was raunchy -- meaning more than what was actually said, mostly facilitated in the mother tongue, Punjabi. The level of the dances too was according to the level that is usually demonstrated and it was like reclaiming that territory which very much belonged to them. It was a sparse set with multimedia projections which kept the stage neat and clean with enough space left for action.

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These days, there is less and less veneration about the sanctity of the forms. Be it painting, literature or music, the formal sacrosanct boundaries are being demolished. As mixed media and prose poetry are making their presence felt, the difference between documentaries and/or a well-made play is also being tested. Similarly, the lines between theatre with a message and that which does not carry an overt tag too have been partially erased; particularly in this play because there was no pretence or any assumption about a middle space between the two.

The production was the effort of the writing consultant Sarmad Sehbai, and directors Claire Pamment and Iram Sana. Pamment has been working on the question of transgenders as part of her academic discourse and has dug out enough material on a subject considered a taboo with nobody wanting to touch it with a bargepole. She is also the performance review editor for Ecumenica and author of the book Comic Performance in Pakistan -- The Bhand. Her interest in theatre too has helped her in making a production that is not displeasing to the eye. Iram Sana, the other co-director is the co-founder of Olomopolo Media in Lahore and has worked with UNICEF and other organisations that cater to the development of arts in Pakistan. She was nominated for the British Council’s fiveFilms4freedom 2016 Global List as an inspiring force for promoting freedom, equality and LGBT rights.

The actors that took part in the performance were Naghma Gogi, Neeli Rana, Jannat Ali, Lucky Roy, Sunny Khan and Anaya Malik; and they definitely had a presence on stage. The audience too had a fair number of transgenders in it and it seemed there was a commonality of cause in the air. For once, the audience too saw their aspirations being reflected and expressed on stage.

Olomopolo has been engaged in activities that may have a bias towards awareness and raising the public level of consciousness about issues that may usher in change for the better. They have been staging plays besides other activities and have been quite consistent in their endeavor, using the visual and performing arts to develop educational and meaningful discourses.

Margins to centrestage