Lipstick Under My Burkha’s, initial reception exposed the hypocrisy of the times we live in, where gender parity is far from a palpable reality. This battle is not new, especially in the arts and culture scene where women were extraneous or erotic aspect of the dramatic piece. Drama Queens, Women Who Created History on Stage, Roli Books, by award winning Veejay Sai‘s maiden 195 page venture, paints the troughs and the peaks, the rise and the decline and the shining and the fading of ten women actors on stage starting from the early 19th century.
‘Woman of Substance’ may be the most googled phrase when it comes to the umbrella and oft misinterpreted term, feminism ( perhaps ‘nepotism’ might topple it now on a generic search), we take for granted the struggle women have had to undertake to make their presence acknowledged, let alone follow their passion. A topic such as this gains increased relevance, when dumbing down of women’s voices, equating feminism with extremism of fatal kinds and twitter wars and hatred against gender is spewed on social media, as a norm. After 70 years (and counting) of independence, gender politics seeps surreptitiously into the dialogue and discourse on life!
Veejay Sai has done a yeoman’s service to the cause of gender parity in theatre, by carefully constructing the life of ten pan India, female theatre actors, whose lives and times, hitherto remained un-excavated. The erudite, theatre actor, playwright, historian and Director Girish Karnad, in his insightful foreword has outlined the theme running across the book and in the lives of these Drama queens on stage- that, men were the performers, women the sensuous distractions. Period!
Veejay Sai, in his aim to piece together the tattered parchment of these actors’ lives, draws inspiration from the connotation of the word ‘Drama’ and employs the metaphor to lend gravitas to the meaning and validate their contribution to the inclusive theatre practices that were to follow.
Kumbakonam Balamani, Tarasundari Devi, Munni Bai, Mukhtar Begum, Hirabai Barodekar, Malavalli Sundaramma, Jahanara Kajjan, Moti Bai, Rushyendramani, and Thambalangoubi Debi, find space in the the Sai’s map. Book’s coordinates are staggering- right from bengal to Maharshatra to the Hinterland of Bihar to the oft missed North-East, through this coverage, he manages to represent all the languages that theatre existed in, in the days of the yore. The struggles of the actresses are also bound by similar tribulations each one faced, including the societal resistance against acceptance on stage and in social life.
Sai in the book assists us to relive the lives lived by these fearless females, much before the visuals on the screen hit the arts scene. The book offers snippets of the tribulations faced by mothers of the actresses who sometimes cooked meals at an ustad’s house for barter of music lessons for the daughters, and recounts the running out of favour of the nawab’s and the feudal lord’s patronage.
It is a seamless tying of patterns and stereotypes that women on stage and in the arts had to face, the visuals garnered from painstaking research add to the literal topography of the world that these women inhabited.
With a technicolour cover juxtaposed against black & white pictures of the women protagonists of Sai’s script, the book entices you into plunging into the world of the author’s inspirations, even though you aren’t a theatre afficionado. I know I am not!
Genre: Non-Fiction/Biographies &Autobiographies