By Ashok Kumar
Jatinga is a small village in North East Indian State of Assam, commonly known as a valley of death for the birds. The place has damsel like beauty with scenic mountains surrounding it. It is also famous for the Birds Mystery. Birds come from different regions of the country only to fall to their death.
This analogy is drawn to Kamathipura Mumbai’s oldest and Asia’s biggest Red-light area where girls (birds) in search of independence and a better life after facing exploitation at the hands of villagers and tribesmen ‘flock’ the area only to be exploited by the sex traders.
Jatinga forms the basis of the play produced by the Sydney’s bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company that weaves the story around five girls running away from the clutches of the ‘sharks’ prying them into sex trade in the Mumbai’s famous red-light area. They are helped by an investigative journalist who give them a ray of hope.
Suzanne Millar, the director of the play, partnering with the award winning actor and director Faezeh Jalali, who plays Manda in the play, international social activist and performer Sapna Bhavnani gave an insight into the culmination of the play Jatinga. The IST interviewed all three at the Kings Cross Theatre.
The IST: How is the analogy of Jatinga related
Suzanne: Jatinga is famous for the migratory birds “committing” suicide and in Kamathipura exploited girls from the underprivileged sections of the society from all over India, specially from the tribal areas, migrate for brighter prospects and life only to end up in sex trade.
The IST: How would you compare Kamathipura to the Kings Cross red-light area?
Suzanne: Very much different. In Kamathipura, the girls have no choice but to become sex workers and in Kings Cross, it’s their independent choice and have the unions to look after their interests. Kamathipura is very organised as compared to Kings Cross where there are drugs and health issues. Kamathipura story is of all runaway girls.
The IST: You two how was it to be daughters of sex workers?
Faezeh: Actually, the play is not about the daughters of sex workers its more about the families who are forced by the circumstances in the village to leave their homes. Like there is farmer who commits suicide and the village head exploits the women folk and they run away from the village only to end up in the clutches of traders.
Sapna: Jatinga is a beautiful metaphor for the girls.who also end up like birds. I play the role of village old woman (Budiya) who knows all and seen all.
The IST: Sapna, what do you do to improve the life of sex workers in Kamathipura?
Sapna: We educate them through the “Paathshala” (School) we run and develop their skills to make them self-dependent. We ask Mumbai’s top hairdressers to run free workshops and train the girls and so many of them have been trained are running their own businesses. The girls are very enthusiastic to get into new vocations. The thing is not to enforce anything on someone. After all they have to look after their interest since they are growing old.
Suzanne: Our work in India is an experiment in the power of the art to transform the lives. Theatre can speak to the community about who they are and who they want to be. The girls at the Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC) want to tell their stories. AAWC is a group that was setup in Kamathipura, to work with the daughters of sex workers and the past and present sex workers to educate them and show pathways.
The IST: What were the challenges faced in the making of Jatinga?
Spana : Well, I have passion for the theatre and I am a social activist, I gave up my American Green Card for the sake of theatre to immerse myself in theatre. The challenge was to be in India and indulge in social activities and educate girls through theatre. The girls get some kind of confidence by looking at other girls,”oh if she can do it why can’t I.” We get the top hairdressers to train them.” The reform was there to see.
Faezeh, who is also into direction besides being an actor said she is involved in the education of the girls. Language was not a problem and both could converse in Hindi very well. Most trained girls do not go back to sex trade after being trained and run their own businesses, she said.
Sapna: The programme is very successful and we have raised some funds online, including one lakh rupees from former cricket captain MS Dhoni. A lot of help is coming from various quarters. Now things are deteriorating in villages and could be more “birds” flocking Kamathipura. She said no things are improving in the whole country and theatre is the playing a big role in the villages to create awareness.
Suzanne you have been in India for three years what was your experience?She said the last year was looking into things more closely. People going about their life as usual and the girls had no choices. Our effort was to make them self reliant. About the play being staged in India she said the play in India would be in Hindi and will have local cast. It is a good idea to convert the play into a film and there are offers and it would be wonderful.
Written by award winning Playwright Purva Naresh, Directed by Suzanne Millar Dramaturg John Harrison Produced by bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co Stage Manager Andrew McMartin Lighting Design by Benjamin Brockman Sound Design by Tegan Nicholls Sound Operator Yael Crishna Set and Costume Design by Courtney Westbrook Starring Sapna Bhavnani, Faezeh Jalali, Suz Mawer, Monroe Reimers, Trishala Sharma, Teresa Tate, Karina Bracken, Sheila Kumar, Amrik Tumber, Bali Padda, Claudette Clark, Charlie Vaux and Sri Sacdpraseuth
Dates: 9th – 24th June, 2017. Previews: 9th–14th. Opening 15th June
Times: 7.30pm Tuesdays – Saturdays, 5pm Sundays
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre – Level 2, Kings Cross Hotel, Kings Cross
Tickets: Adult $35 | Concession $30 | Previews and Cheap Tuesday $25
For More information and bookings visit: www.bakehousetheatrecompany.com.au