We’ve had this one marked on our calendar for weeks. The Gaysi Family’s trailblazing event, aiming to bridge the gap between queer and straight spaces, is being held on the 13th of September, opting to embrace the theme of ‘Women in Contemporary India’ this time round. The evening’s roster looks packed with a range of entertaining events, right from the East India Company boys and Aditi Mittal doing some stand-up comedy (known for reducing audiences to tears of laughter) to music performances by Siddharth Basrur of Goddess Gagged fame, and singer-songwriter Christabel Mendezes. India’s first LGBT choir is going to be making its exciting first debut this evening as well, and there’s also going to be a healthy dollop of poetry slam and interpretive dance.
Dirty Talk 7.0 plans on carrying forward its legacy of showing the audience a good time at Tilt All Day, one of its most aesthetic venues so far according to the founders. Homegrown spoke to some of the performers taking the mic this time round, to get a quick low down on what to look forward to and profile them a little bit too.
I. Aditi Mittal - Brilliant. Mind-blasting-boggling. Spectacular.
Who: One of India’s leading comedians in the country, Aditi Mittal has also carved a niche for herself as one of the only female comedians. “In general, when people come to see me they can expect to see a girl on stage with a mike.” Having performed at venues across India, UK and USA, she also worked her magic for BBC’s ‘Welcome to wherever you are’ produced by Ed Morrish, and BBC Asian Comedy’s ‘The cream of South Asian Comedy’ in London.
Apparently a ‘connoisseur of shoe flavours’ from putting her foot in her mouth too often, she pulls off a mean stand-up peppered with sharp commentary on sex, politics and culture.
Everyone, to be honest, I’m a huge fan of stand-up comedy. I’d say Katt Williams, Louis CK, Joan Liver Perkins, George Carlin. Closer home, Vir Das is, of course, a pathbreaker. You know, I think every comedian in the country copies him a little bit… Every time you see him on stage you end up wondering to yourself – ye kya khaake aata hain? Then there’s Sohrabh Pant, Rajneesh Kapoor in Delhi, Karthik Kumar in Chennai, Sanjay Manaktala and Sandeep Rao from Bangalore. It’s exciting how so many Indian comedians are on their way to discovering their own voice.
Your history with Dirty Talk and what you’re looking forward to?
I performed at the first ever Dirty Talk, and have been in touch with Sakshi and Anuja ever since. I just love Dirty Talk – it’s where you can get the most no-holds-barred sort of love. Also, the fights that happen here are the most legendary, with everyone getting quite sloshed. It’s like the Woodstock of the LGBT community in Bombay. I’m really excited about this! I’m all set, I intend on keeping my rainbow-coloured hat on and striking gold.
What’s a joke that never fails to disappoint?
I think Dirty Talk is a euphemism for life – dirty fucking talk always works, people lose it when you use expletives, it’s attention-grabbing and unifies people in their understanding of the term.
II. Mona Ambegaonkar - Unstructured. Original. Batty.
Who: When we asked Mona Ambegaonkar to tell us a little bit about herself, she replied, “I have lived and devoured experiences for far too long to be able to fit it all into a ‘little bit’, but here it is.”
Mona Ambegaonkar is a reputed actress and has worked on stage, television and cinema. With ‘good and bad work’ under her belt, she concedes that it is ‘good work, mostly’. She wears many hats, though, as activist, political party volunteer, writer, breadwinner and mother. Also having directed and produced documentaries in the past, she has also written for a feature film, published short stories and contributed to magazines and newspapers online. Her pièce de résistance, especially when it comes to working with the LGBTQ community, is undeniably ‘Ek Madhav Baug’, a 50-minute Marathi play written by the late esteemed playwright Chetan Datar.
You’ve been involved with supporting the LGBT community for a while now. What are the changes and landmarks you’ve noticed regarding attitudes, over the past few years?
Hmmm. It’s been a sort of see-saw. Up and down. The High Court and Supreme Court rulings on Section 377 have swung LGBTQI Community and supporters this way and that. Those who were open to sensitisation and knowledge about the issues facing the community are still a struggle to access and address.
However, there is more visibility of LGBTQI people in the press and professional arenas. I don’t know if that is because I am looking out for them or because that is the case across all sections of society. However, I do know that out-reach work has become more dangerous and violence towards the community has increased, and now police intervention is harsher and not favourable.
How many performances of ‘Ek Madhav Baug’ have been staged till date, and how has the response to it changed, if at all?
So far I have performed 50 shows. Each one has been unique. The corporate shows and ones done for educational institutions have been the most important for they were done in front of audiences that needed to know, irrespective of whether they were sympathetic. They were not ‘Community,’ even though almost all the shows would never have happened if the Community had not pushed them. Each show has been unique and none of them can be explained briefly. That’s a book waiting to be written.
How have you been preparing for your performance at Dirty Talk 7.0?
I am going to source some of the poetry I have written already. Apart from that, I will be talking mostly about women and their exploitation and violence against them. I will be talking about rape and sex and how the former has nothing to do with the latter. But I don’t believe in leaving an audience depressed. If you make them laugh, they will remember you and what you said. So no matter how harsh the reality, there is always room for a chuckle. I hope to make a few points but I also hope to make them stick on the tip of a smile.
III. Sibi Mathen - Rainbow! Fabulous! Woman!
Who: Rainbow Voices Mumbai is India’s first LGBT choir that’s going to hold its debut performance at Dirty Talk 7.0. Born out of a need to showcase their musical talent, co-founders Sibi Mathen and Vinod Philip first held auditions in the last weekend of June this year. They tell us that RVM has about 20 regular, active members, besides which there are easily 14-15 travelling members, who participate in the choir whenever they are in town.
What is your musical repertoire for your first performance looking like?
We’d like to keep that a secret... but we’d like to give one word, ‘Rainbow!’
What is the mood of the choir pre-Dirty Talk, and how are you gearing up to hit the right note?
Regular practice sessions with sessions on voice and breathing exercises. Getting the branding in place and the uniforms and all, is some of our prep work. Also, being open to ideas from the choir itself helps to strengthen the bonds of friendship and camaraderie in the choir. Remember, also, that the theme is ‘woman.’
IV. Siddharth Basrur - Doesn’t Do 3-Word Summations.
Who: Siddharth Basrur is a singer-songwriter and musician, who has been practising music for almost 15 years. Having played with quite a few bands, he has dappled in a range of genres from punk and acoustic to metal and electronic. Having entered the indie scene with his first band, Kinky Ski Munky, he is known best as the front-man for the progressive metal outfit Goddess Gagged.
What have you planned to perform for the event?
I just finished mixing an album with my new band, Last Remaining Light. I’ll be playing a few songs off that record.
Is this the first time you’re performing at Dirty Talk?
I had the privilege of performing at the last edition, which was held at Three Wise Men, in Santacruz, earlier this year.
Dirty Talk 7.0 has quite a line-up of performers this time. Whose performances are you looking forward to the most?
I really like Christabel Menezes. Looking forward to hearing her live.
V. Neha Toteja - Sexy. Sassy. Stellar.
Who: Neha Toteja fits right into our Dual Existence list, building a repertoire in stand up comedy while helping build valuation for brands and businesses at her day job. ‘Corporate strategist by day’ and ‘writer by night’, Neha is also a performance poet, satirist, World Cinema aficionado and coffee connoisseur. She declares herself to be ‘a professional list-maker’, unwarranted advice-giver and admirer of all things beautiful.
Also a contributor to Gaysi Family’s zine project, she wrote the piece ‘I’m your Girl’, a fun poem inspired by Leonard Cohen’s ‘I’m Your Man’. A true blue Social Media Butterfly, you can tweet to her at @NehaToteja.
How did you get into stand up and poetry slam?
I’ve been writing poetry ever since I was a kid and have been published in national and international publications. I was also an active debater and elocutionist whilst in college (LSE). Living in London whilst studying at the LSE helped me take my performance poetry a notch up – I started engaging in poetry slams, stand up events etc. in London and Berlin.
After I moved to Mumbai (in 2007), I became an active member of the underground Poetry Open Mike scene. I have performed at various events including Bombay Elektrik Project’s Open Mike Night at the erstwhile Café Goa & Caferati @ Prithvi theatre. With Dirty Talk, I found my true calling in Stand Up Comedy. It’s been a fun, entertaining and fulfilling journey.
Is this the first time you’re performing at Dirty Talk?
No, I have performed twice before. At the very first DT I ended up doing a serious piece, which, while appreciated, was not a riot.
My last performance at Dirty Talk 6.0 with a piece called ‘I’m not a lesbian’ – a satirical poem that was a superhit! I realise the DT audience likes intelligent humour (the venue is mostly pubs and bars and people come for a night out drinking – so we have to entertain them). There are other performance events that Gaysi Family hosts (e.g. Read Out Loud) where I have also spoken – those are intended for a more serious night out and have mostly a Queer audience, unlike DT, which is very mixed.
How have you been preparing for it?
I write all my performance pieces myself. So really, the first thing is to get the script correct. There’s constant writing and rewriting.
Then there’s work on the delivery and intonation. I act out to friends and take their feedback, taking care to include the parts where they laughed the most.
VI. Ameya - Artistic. Purposeful.
Who: Bhumika and Ameya are trained jazz and contemporary dancers, who are going to be performing a unique duet of poetry-reading and interpretive dance. Both freelancers at the moment as performers, teachers and choreographers, they have had the liberty of undertaking projects like these, that they are creatively stimulated by. Ameya has worked and trained with SDIPA and Terence Lewis’s company, while Bhumika has trained at Danceworx.
Although they would have loved to put up a dance piece depicting the theme, the space constraints of an open mic led to the idea of this original collaboration. Ameya’s keen interest in literary art inspired the idea behind the performance, and the concept received much support from Gaysi Family, who were happy to provide a platform for it.
Where did the inspiration for your poem ‘I Am Enough’ come from?
Anuja asked me to write a poem about the contemporary Indian woman. She said, ‘I know this sounds strange as I ask it, but I want you to write a poem about what it feels like to be a woman.’ It got me thinking. As a performer, the ability to empathize and put yourself in another’s shoes/situation and emote is essential. ‘I Am Enough’ is a by-product of the self-questioning/self-revelation thought process/narrative that everyone goes through. In this case, it was customized with the idea that the central character is a woman, her ideologies, circumstances, and eventual enlightenment.
The inspiration was simple - Anuja’s request to write about how it feels like to be a woman in today’s society. This coupled with a background score (one of my favourites) and interpretive, minimalistic movement by a woman is bound to be noticed.
What are some of the ‘stoic societal realities’ you’re going to be addressing through your performance?
The poem is divided into three parts- para 1 is about bodily awareness and acceptance, para 2 is about upbringing and how boys are treated differently to girls (inequality and differentiation), para 3 is about societal discrimination, at work, at home. The narrative then transforms into a self-motivation, and getting to terms with the enduring spirit and power that needs to be invoked in each woman.
The pressures thus being self-image, self-acceptance, self-loving and the lack of it, struggle against Indian value systems about a girl child and the opportunity and upbringing dissimilarities, differentiation/harassment at work, her voice going unheard.
How did you conceptualise the performance?
The conceptualization was keeping in mind the lack of space, and the eagerness to contribute to the cause. How can we come up with something different? Make an impact. Be visual. Be vocal. It had to be poetry in motion, literally!
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari
[Homegrown’s going to be at The Gaysi Family’s event, Dirty Talk 7.0, on September 13th and you should be too. More event details here.]