Earlier this year, when Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal was on a flight, a young girl approached the actor and director asking if she could hug her? She showed Mody-Kotwal a photograph of a man, Mody-Kotwal and the cast of Mody-Kotwal’s play. “She told me that was the happiest day of her life,” remembered Mody-Kotwal, who had assumed that the girl had met her boyfriend or spouse at one of Mody-Kotwal’s shows.
But that wasn’t the case. In fact, the girl had decided to end her abusive marriage after watching a performance of Mody-Kotwal’s adaptation of Eve Ensler’s iconic play, The Vagina Monologues. The photograph, which featured her ex-husband, was her way of commemorating the day.
“We hear interesting stories and comments after every staging of the play,” said Mody-Kotwal. “We tell the girls, ‘If you want to find a good guy come to (watch) Vagina Monologues!”
The death of an ‘MCP’
Ensler’s 1996 play uses a series of monologues to talk about the idea of being female, viscerally exploring subjects such as menstruation, giving birth, love, sex, orgasm and even rape. Over the years, Mody-Kotwal has heard it all: crowds screaming “taboo” words in the audience, adult women who said they went home and properly looked at the female parts of their anatomy, and men and women who claimed they now think of the vagina differently.
Since 2003, Mody-Kotwal’s English and Hindi adaptations have been staged more than a thousand times. Mody-Kotwal and her cast have performed across the country: in Bangalore, Pune, Chandigarh, Goa, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Baroda and Surat. It’s usually a cast of three or five women. They localise the context to a certain extent depending on whether they are taking the production to big cities or small towns. Despite the popularity and success they have encountered, there’s no denying that the play is controversial. Theatres have refused to run it, celebrities have shied away from being part of the performance and so many have admitted that the first time they heard the title of the play, they mistook it for a raunchy sex comedy.
Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, directed the Indian adaptation of The Vagina Monologues. (Manoj Patil/HT Photo)
But audiences, Mody-Kotwal insisted, have never been turned off. “From day one, they have been accepting [of its content],” she added. Even right-wing political parties, according to her, haven’t objected to the show. “I truly believe that the play was written with such pure intent and sincerity of purpose that people of both genders and even the third gender have embraced it with open arms across all age groups,” said Mody-Kotwal.
When the play was staged in Mumbai two weeks ago, a man wrote this note in the production’s comment book: ‘MCP [a Male Chauvinist Pig] died a happy death today.’
The Gurgaon edition
This weekend, on October 15 and 16, the show will open in Gurgaon at Canvas Laugh Club @ People & Co. Mody-Kotwal, Mona Ambegaonkar and Swati Das are part of the cast. “We have staged the play in Delhi several times and always had a fabulous response,” says Mody-Kotwal.
Audiences have warmed to it over the years too. Governments in Chennai and Lucknow, for instance, initially objected to the play, but have since allowed it to be staged. “Times have changed and thankfully so has the mindset of people,” said Mody-Kotwal, before adding, “Well, most people.”
But there have been some hiccups. When Mody-Kotwal’s first producer had backed out before they debuted in 2003, she had to raise additional funds to get the play on stage. “Theatres like Sophia Bhabha and St. Andrews would not, and some continue not to, give us performance space,” she said. Nevertheless the show continues to attract audiences in large numbers. It was staged in Sri Lanka recently.
Mody-Kotwal now has other plans: from organising a fundraiser to build a shelter for rape survivors in Delhi to documenting audience reactions to, and stories on, the play itself. It’s because of the audience, she said, that the play has become so popular. “You give them a great experience like The Vagina Monologues and there is no way they won’t keep coming back for more,” she added. “I have even staged several shows for women and men living in the slums of Mumbai and have always got a super reaction.”
Mody-Kotwal’s only grouse is that the Hindi version doesn’t get the same response as the English one. “I think people are sceptical about the kind of words that will be used but it’s beautifully written,” she said. She is determined to keep staging more shows. “I usually make losses in the Hindi version but don’t intend to stop. Our main purpose is to bring about awareness and from time to time raise funds for shelters for battered and abused women and victims of acid attacks.”
WHAT: The Vagina Monologues
WHERE: Canvas Laugh Club @ People & Co, Cyber Hub, Gurgaon
WHEN: October 15 and 16. 2 and 4 pm shows both days
To book tickets log onto Bookmyshow.com or buy them at the box office
Ticket: Rs 750