Monday, July 13, 2015

"He Plays Herself" - THE GOAN: I'm Not Here (12 July 2015)

On seeing the billboards for Francis de Tuem’s Reporter, one would be forgiven for thinking that the title character of the currently running tiatr was meant to be a man, or the writer-director himself. Indeed, de Tuem and several other men feature prominently on the advertising materials. This notwithstanding, it is women who play the most important roles in the play that pulls no punches in remarking on present-day politics in Goa. One could make the obvious comment about gender hierarchies and portrayals in the genre and, undoubtedly, Reporter does participate in the usual relegation of women to traditional roles, especially “in the context of the construction of community identity,” as Rowena Robinson observes in “Interrogating Modernity, Gendering ‘Tradition’: Teatr Tales from Goa” (2009: 508). Yet, de Tuem’s tiatr employs gender in other ways, too, as I shall point out.

A political satirist, de Tuem is no stranger to controversy. In August 2009, the tiatrist found himself to be the subject of political drama, offstage, when he was arrested following a complaint lodged against him by MLA Francis ‘Mickky’ Pacheco. That the artist shares a name with the politician is the least of the coincidences as echoed in that oft-repeated adage about life, art, and imitation, one made even more curious by the fact that Pacheco is himself now in prison. Focusing on the machinations of a political family headed by a wily matriarch, de Tuem’s Reporter mines the recent political histories of Goa and India to deliver a drama that brings to mind the Churchill and Nehru-Gandhi dynasties among others. It is not only within the main plot that incumbent politicians find themselves parodied, but they are also directly skewered in several sub-plots and cantaram or songs, which make up the episodic nature of the tiatr form. The counterpart to Aplonia Rodrigues, the conniving matriarchal politician, is the reporter Anita – the chief protagonist whose foremost commitment is to journalistic integrity.

Even so, it is no stretch to say that the character of Anita is under conceived, for she has no developmental arc within the play and often comes across as being a bit one-note in her professional ardour, even as Anita, the actress playing the eponymous role, acquits herself marvellously. Instead, it is the director himself who takes centre stage. His many appearances between scenes to deliver politically observant cantaram about caste, the beef-ban, the ghar wapsi debacle, and various other current issues, serve as a transgression of the fourth wall and bear testimony to the astuteness of the vibrant Konkani art form in engaging with all things au courant. Considering the asides as part of the larger performance, and the use of contemporary phenomena as fodder for the play’s script and songs, de Tuem evidently stages himself as a reporter commenting on politics in Goa. Therein, the otherwise underdeveloped character of the female reporter functions as an extension of the performative writer-director himself, and the motif of the reporter bridges the asides with the main plot by emphasising political commentary as theatrical subject matter. 
 Despite this transgender continuity through reportage, there is no doubt that while sometimes disrupting traditional gender roles, Reporter perpetuates patriarchy. If de Tuem locates himself more prominently than his female complement, Anita’s characterisation as an independent professional woman is at odds, for example, with a song about live-in relationships where an unmarried woman is chastised for living immorally with her boyfriend. As Robinson notes, tiatr regards women as the lynchpin to “[t]he familial domain [which] is perceived as the only anchor in an unstable world …, [primarily] in the face of the disturbing forces of the modern” (535).

But if the title character is female and I read de Tuem as one side of her, am I merely suggesting his feminisation? While much more could be said about the gender-queer elements of tiatr, the larger discussion to be had about such possibilities is in how de Tuem’s own theatrical gendering serves to represent the status of Goan Catholics in society today. As the late Pramod Kale argues in his study of tiatr, “[i]t is a form which is rooted in the working class and lower middle class Goan Catholic[s] …, expressing their trials and tribulations, hopes and aspirations” (1986: 2054). If Robinson detects how tiatr positions women traditionally as the counterbalance to modernity’s onslaught, then de Tuem’s play meditates on the othering of a minority community in relation to the masculinist Hindu nationalist state as signified by its policing of morality and dietary practices among other restrictive legislations. As Reporter reveals, the very audience it caters to is the vote bank that is patronised even as other agendas play out behind the scenes. That the political family around which the tiatr revolves is a Catholic one headed by a woman only further demonstrates how nationalist and familial patriarchy metamorphose to suit circumstance. Similarly, Reporter’s ostensible use of a female lead who is overshadowed by her director is no less emblematic of patriarchy’s persistence, even as it offers a critique of the domineering state. 

From The Goan.

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