By Holli Harms
The Kraine Theater on the lower east side has a teeny-tiny lobby area. As more and more audience members entered for the show and it became increasingly crowded, I heard someone say, ”We’re waiting for the doors to open.” Little did I know that statement would be the theme of the night.
Dipti Mehta, beautifully costumed in traditional saris and lehenga, tells the story of a young girl Rani, growing up in Mumbai’s red light district with hope and belief that the right door will open for her and she will be able to live a normal life as a wife and mother.
Woven into her story is the epic poem of Draupadi, a heroine who suffers greatly at the hands of men but who continues to strive for a life of valor, conviction, and integrity.
Another woman suffering at the hands of men is Rani’s mother’s Chameli, now in her 40’s she has been a prostitute since the age of 13.
Rani is 16 and it is time for her “honour.” The honour, in this case, is her virginity. Who will be the lucky one who gets to take it? This taking will cost them 101,000 rupees, about 1500 USD.
Most of the story is told through Rani’s perspective and at first, we are laughing and enjoying learning Hindi words like Hijda (eunuch), and watching choreographer Monica Kapoor’s beautiful mix of traditional dance and Bollywood which are enticing, exotic, suggestive and haunting. Hearing the story first told through a child’s and then a young woman’s point of view makes it sound not as dark, it feels even normal, but then the mother Chameli sits and asks, “Do you want to hear the story of my life?” We do.
She was sold by her father at 13 to a pimp and raped repeatedly. She cried for her family but they never came to rescue her, instead, they sent a letter telling her to never ever try to contact them as she would be a disgrace to them. She was sacrificed by the family for money. Poverty determined her life and thus the life of her daughter who she will now sell to the highest bidder. Do we hate her? Yes, and no. She tells us doing this is actually saving her child’s life, because no one will ever want to marry someone who was born and raised in a brothel.
I did not move in my seat, too riveted to the story and the telling of it.
Dipti Mehta is such a fine performer, she embodies all the characters( not only her mother, but a pimp, a priest, her friend the eunuch, and a customer) with dignity and humor as they work to hide their own resolve to their fate and their place in society. That place so low that Chameli says, “They come in the darkness of the night; they don’t even want their shadow to see you.” You, the whore, the hooker, the desired one, are nothing and yet she adds but also everything.
She teaches her daughter how to lure men and gives her the false belief that the women actually have the power. It’s what they tell themselves to maintain sanity, to get through the days and nights that only lead into more days and more nights.
Rani waited patiently for the right door to open for her to start a life as a teacher, or doctor, with a husband who loves her, but that door was blocked and barricaded by her mother and circumstances. In the end, we know the fate of Rani is the same as her mother, but how the story gets there is more horrifying than can be imagined.
I don’t usually comment on the actual staging of a play but this one felt so intimate, so personal that I kept wishing we were on stage with her or that the theatre was in the round. We want to be closer to have Dipti whisper in our ears parts of her truths and dance around us her heartaches.
You have only two more nights at The Kraine, but hopefully, the play will find another home. It deserves that and more.
Sat May 4, 2019 | 2:00PM
Sun May 5, 2019 | 2:00PM
Frigid New York presents HONOUR: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan at The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street, New York, NY 10003. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/honour2019
FRIGID New York @ Horse Trade is a theater development group, with a focus on new work, that produces a massive quantity of stimulating downtown theater every season. FRIGID’s Resident Artist Program offers a home to a select group of Independent theater artists, pooling together a great deal of talent and energy. FRIGID New York grew out of the annual FRIGID Festival, the first and only festival of its kind in New York City to offer artists 100% of their box office proceeds, and Horse Trade Theater Group, a self-sustaining theater development and management group. www.FRIGIDnewyork.info