Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Problematising The Body-A Solo Performance
BEAUTY PARLOUR - Problematising The Body
C. S. Venkiteswaran
Beauty Parlour, a play by K S Sreenath, directed by Sreenath and Sajitha, was performed at Thiruvananthapuram as part of the Theatre Festival during the Surya Festival 2001 "Beauty parlour' , according to the playwright (K S Sreenath), was inspired by a newspaper item about a woman who turned violent in a beauty parlour, wounded herself, and ran out naked into the city streets; she was arrested by the police later, but she refused to talk to anyone; and no one came in search of her. The play is a solo performance by M Sajitha (who also co-directs the play along with Sreenath), which is rendered as the monologue of the beautician from whose parlour Anita runs out. As it unfolds the play delves into the life, struggles and conflicts of both the characters - the narrator (the beautician) and her customer (Anita), both turning out to be victims.
The central question the play addresses is woman's relation to her body - the perpetual dissatisfaction with one's body that impairs her relation to her self; the obsessive concerns about its appearance and 'beauty'; the yearning to achieve and maintain its elusive perfection -its youth, smoothness, freshness and desirability…When one's appearance determines one's self-image, identity and self, its despairing elusiveness becomes one's destiny. Never available to oneself, but always naked to the gaze, look and glance of the other, and from which one has no escape, the obsession with appearance is the most tragic of one's relation to oneself. The mannequin on the stage represents the dream that the culture imposes upon woman, that ideal of perpetual youth hood, firmness, shapeliness, and alluring glow. As the play progresses, it is dismembered limb by limb. And in the end, the parts of the mannequin lie strewn around the stage. In the process, the play dissects the ideal of beauty and appearance, that chimera Anita was in pursuit. So, the dismemberment of the mannequin is accompanied by the putting together of the bits and pieces of Anita's life - a life that was defined by and destined to be the object of male gaze, always subject to preening and pruning to satisfy male desire. The characters - the beautician herself and Anita - come to life in the brilliant performance of Sajitha. The tragedy of their lives unfolds before us in the words of the beautician, who, trying to drive her guilt away, compulsively reminisces about her erstwhile customer. The play employs an acting method that brings to mind pakarnnattam of our classical arts like koodiyattam - a technique that perfectly suits the theme of the play which is about woman's relation to her body and her self. In pakarnnattam the actress effortlessly assumes and transforms herself into different selves through bodily movements and abhinaya. In real life, her body is a prison for Anita, something which is forced to shapes and postures, and is beyond her control. This dialectic between form and content, that is founded upon the conflict between body and appearance, self and image, desire and desirability, the look and its target, what one is and what one wants to be, lends 'Beauty Parlour' a dramatic tension that is contemporary and political. The production of the play was also minimalist in essence. Using minimum facilities and entirely depending upon the magic of acting and the innovative use of stage properties, the play is also sparing in its use of light and music."Beauty Parlour", in its passionate search for a new language that is capable of expressing the conflicts of our times marks a qualitative shift in the history of Malayalam theatre. Breaking away from both streams of 'experimental' theatre in Kerala - one obsessed with form and the other with the 'message' - Sreenath's play gives statement to the churning process that the contemporary theatre activists are finding themselves firstname.lastname@example.org