Conversations on Tamil Feminist Theater, hosted by Marappachi Theater (Part 2)

This is the second installment in a two-part series on Tamil Feminist Theater

We live in a time when conflict and destruction are no longer the exception but the norm. It may be natural disasters or conflicts created by State and non-state institutions and individuals. It often feels like a dark cloud is looming over us. However, those of us who have chosen to live with the purpose of changing the world to the best of our ability always see a silver lining to these clouds. That could be a song that expresses deep sadness and thus helps with healing; it could be a slogan that demands rights in its quest for justice; it could be a dance that quietly moves into our body, soul and our very being. Art, therefore, is an indispensable part of that hope.

A. Mangai is among the many theatre practitioners in the Tamil context who have worked for the past 40 years towards creating art that – seeks to be part of social change; is against the oppressions of caste/class/patriarchy; reclaims and recreates traditional art forms; and has given us new voices and movements. Students, society at large, Sri Lankan Tamils on the island and the diaspora, and traditional artists of Tamil Nadu have been participants and spectators of this work by Mangai, among others, for the past 40 years. We planned to use the opportunity of Mangai’s 60th year to organise a celebration and a conversation on women in Tamil theatre and Feminist Tamil theatre. Those of us who have worked with her over the years were to present some of her productions as excerpts or in full and perform during these two days. We also wanted to bring together women and feminist theatre practitioners in the Tamil context across generations to have conversations about our work, its history, and the challenges ahead.

The goal of the gathering was to enable us to claim our history as our own, to face and address our current challenges, those we will continue to face, and to gain hope from our collective energy. The event was an attempt at revitalising and nourishing us all. Such nourishment is much needed at times like this. In the light of the lock-down due to COVID- 19, the event could not be held as planned, however, we organised multiple events online in order to realise our objectives of exploring multiple aspects of Tamil Feminist Theatre.

On June 7, 2020, a show rehearsed completely through Zoom was presented by Tamilarasi, a theatre student at the National School of Drama and a member of Marappachi. A video of this performance is shown below. The performance features a 20th Century poem by Bharathiyar (a modern poet in Tamil) titled Kaatru (Wind). A call to strengthen our houses, roofs, doors, body, mind and emotion to let the wind befriend you comes through as a clarion call to positivity and compassion in the context of migrant worker struggles and the impunity of the State arresting young student leaders and senior intellectual scholars. A discussion on the making of the performance follows. 

Kaatru Theater Performance | Marappachi | A. Mangai | Tamilarasi

Discussion on Making Kaatru with Tamilarasi and Mangai

About the contributors:
Marappachi is registered as a not-for-profit cultural organization. Founded by Late Poet Inquilab as the Founding President in 2006, it attempts to practice art and theatre that is relevant and contemporary. A. Mangai has been with the group right from its inception. The group addresses deeply ingrained prejudices in our society like caste, class and gender. The group works with students, art practitioners and organisations and movements to address social transformation through theatre. Some of the major productions of the group are Inquilab’s Kurinjippattu and V. Geetha’s Kaala Kanavu, a docu-drama on the history of feminist thought in India. Marappachi has been inclusive of the queer community right from its inception. Members of the group are also engaged in research on theatre history. The group wants to uphold process over product-driven modes of making theatre.
A. Mangai is the pseudonym of Dr. V. PadmaShe retired as Associate Professor in English from Stella Maris College, Chennai. She has been actively engaged in Tamil theatre as an actor, Director and Playwright for almost three decades. She hopes that her academic, activist and artistic selves can find a vibrant intersection. Her fields of interest are theatre, gender and translation studies. Her passion is to concentrate on community theatre – to make theatre the voice of the voiceless, or the marginalized.  She has directed over thirty -five plays so far. All of them deal with women –centered themes and characters. Her book Acting Up: Gender and Theatre in India 1979 Onwards has been published by Left Word, New Delhi.  
Tamilarasi Anandavalli is currently pursuing her studies in theatre at the National School of Drama. Sports, yoga and theatre give her the space to explore her body, emotions and thoughts.  She has been acting in plays and short films for the past seven years.
Suggested Citation:
Marappachi Theater. 8 September 2020. “Conversations on Tamil Feminist Theater (Part 2).” AGITATE! Blog