Title of Project:
Staging Feminisms: Gender, Violence, and Performance in Contemporary India
Title of Presentation:
Feminism and Folk Epic: Draupadi, Dharma, Performance, and Protest in Teejan Bai’s Pandavani
In my first presentation, I discussed chapter 1 of the monograph and stated that my work purposes to establish the mutuality between performance, culture and feminist discourse and that my reading addresses a number of case studies of contemporary performances. Examples of performances aimed to change the audience community and culture have a deeply political approach; my investigation then is fundamentally about the politics of performance. Although the chapters of this book can be read separately, they are all woven as nodes in a network. Structurally each chapter locates attention to the cultural scripts that write women’s bodies as penetrable or violable and challenge these scripts. The performances, which will be taken up for discussion in the subsequent chapters, demonstrate not only the multiplicity of theatrical forms but also their acts of political intervention. In the introductory presentation, I had also unpacked my methodological tool for interpretative criticism and performance viewing/reviewing. Secondly, I engaged with four key terms used in the title of this work: feminism, gender, performance, and violence to see how these are interlocked in the performances I have selected to study. I ended up questioning the use of this approach. Does this position permit us to essentially transform anything in the world? Lastly, I held that the question is always open to deliberation.
In this presentation, I will discuss chapter 2 of the book which is a reading of Teejan Bai’s Pandavani performances. Pandavani as a mono artiste performance form is a lyrical narration of events from the Mahabharata popular predominantly in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. As a performance practice, it is a re-creation of the stories from the epic, it is not about rehearsed lines it is more about improvisation of the already well-known stories. The Mahabharata is undoubtedly one of the definitive cultural narratives in the construction of masculine and feminine gender roles in ancient India, and its numerous narrative telling’s and retellings have conceptually confronted and framed social and gender identities either maintaining and reproducing or resisting gender construction. In keeping with the stated bias of the book this chapter will interrogate and demonstrate the ways in which contemporary performance practices see the ‘pervasiveness’ of violence, how violence is woven into the fabric of everyday lives, societies, and structures and also provide a counterpoint through the determination of sites of interventions in performances. My reading will be attentive to the performance practice hitherto essentially a male preserve to see how Teejan’s interpretation is interspersed with feminist revisionism thereby enriching the performance with a different understanding, which comes to her from her life experiences and sustained performances. Teejan Bai does not take up contemporary instances of injustice towards women as in the case of other performers chosen for this study in the subsequent chapters instead finds different ways of foregrounding gender discrimination in a well-known story.
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