Deepika Arwind on her play No Rest in the Kingdom, and the misconception that women aren't funny
Deepika Arwind says that women are hilarious because they have managed to laugh and enable laughter through centuries of oppression
Deepika Arwind, a Bangalore-based theatre artiste, says the complaint that 'women aren't funny enough' is ridiculous. "Women are hilarious, they have managed to laugh and enable laughter through centuries of oppression," she rightly says.
She was recently in Mumbai to perform her one-woman-play, No Rest in the Kingdom. The need to have a conversation about how the best of us have internalised misogyny in forms that we are not aware of spawned the play. During her time on stage, Arwind plays four characters: two men, a woman and quite unexpectedly, a cat. All of them demand multiple readings. In a chat with Firstpost, she breaks down the characters, what they mean to her and discusses the response she's received so far.
Did you always want to be on stage?
Yes, I've been doing theatre since I was in college. I've been a writer and journalist, but now my writing and performing life have converged. I see myself as a 'theatre-maker', in that I don't know if I only want to perform or write or collaborate. I think I'd like to do all these things. This show has helped me find a continuum between being a writer and a performer, and that's been really significant in my journey. Theatre, because it is a beautiful receptacle of everything I hold close, especially the audience, and community.
How was No Rest in the Kingdom conceived?
No Rest in the Kingdom was created out of the need to have a conversation about gender, and in a way that it would be accessible. I think as women we have enough material gathered from just our everyday lives, but for this performance I also spoke to a couple of women performers about making work that dealt with gender, and many of these conversations sparked ideas. I essentially went into the rehearsal room, started mucking about and found characters I wanted to play.
Did you modify it over the years, perhaps because of the changing landscape of women's rights?
I actually didn't have a script until ten shows of the play had been performed. Funnily, I haven't touched it in terms of changing the material and relating it to current issues, simply because I think the patriarchy has robbed both women and men alike, and therefore it'll be a long time before the show will be irrelevant, unfortunately.
Are your characters modeled after people you know?
Yes, and no. Fiction is always that double-edged sword, isn't it?
Was it challenging to not stereotype the characters you play while maintaining the humour and still driving the point home?
I think that came without much effort. I feel in this specific modality of making work, I can only be authentic to a certain context, and it is important that it is revealed in my work. What was challenging was to continue embodying them truthfully after I did more shows. They are likeable people, but they hold strong biases or are surrounded by people who do, and to be clear they may be from different milieus, but they are distinctly urban and speak similar languages as far as say the access to technology and consumerism are concerned.
Are the responses you get from women any different than the ones you get from men?
Yes, women always feel like they have met these characters in some form or the other, which I feel says a lot. I feel like guys get it on a cerebral level, but some of them do wonder if these characters actually exist, which again tells us a lot about how differently we experience the world.
Were there moments when you had to confront your own inherent prejudices? How hard is it for you to rid your mind of those preconceived notions?
Of course! I had to make sure I didn't judge any of the characters as a performer. While I like to think and write about gender obsessively, I also have to be careful of my own small responses to seemingly inconsequential things. I don't want to speak the language of misogyny in any form. I would extend that idea into everything. It isn't that hard, really. Everyone should try it.
What does the cat in the play signify?
The cat — the motif that runs through the play — is drawn from the way women are alluded to as cats in popular culture — shrill cat, annoying cat, old spinster with cat, cat fight. Men are always top cats, player cats, cool cats. Through the play, different men refer to the women they are speaking about as cats, and finally the cat comes out to rap, to revolt.
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