Heartbreak interwoven with humour in examining the suppression of the female voice across time.
When one steps into a theatre space, one of the last things one might expect to find is a literal boxing ring. Just as you’re getting used to the idea of this strange set-piece, two women dressed in exercise gear and carrying gym bags arrive and enter the ring, and we can’t help but wonder – are they about to fight?
The answer is yes. Except, their enemy is not each other, but the patriarchy.
Directed by Deepika Arwind, Indian performing arts company The Lost Post Initiative streams their show i am not here as part of the 2021 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, tackling the the ever-present problem of women being silenced. And with the unique boxing ring setting, i am not here makes it clear from the start that they will pull no punches when it comes to excavating the hard truths.
i am not here does not follow a set overarching narrative, rather, it comprises a series of unconnected scenes, each dealing with censorship and abuse of women. Some of the scenes are whimsical, such as a presentation of Shakespeare’s imaginary sister, spouting the Elizabethan English of the Renaissance era, and lamenting the lack of recognition she gets compared to her brother, despite their similar skillsets.
In another scene, we see the simultaneously humourous and crushing presentation of an Instagram poet reading a scathing review of her work (possibly a nod to real life Indian Insta-poet Rupi Kaur); while the review begins objectively enough, commenting on the work’s literary merit, it quickly devolves into a personal attack tearing her down for her intellect and position. A male audience member is asked to read parts of the review out loud, inadvertently positioning him as the aggressor, and allowing the audience to feel complicit in allowing such sexism to run rampant.
i am not here shines brightest however, when it comes to the physical, wordless scenes. We watch as a man straddles between devotion to his dog and sudden, hard-to-watch moments where he abuses and physically beats it, perhaps one of the worst kinds of toxic relationships out there, where one is only nice to you when you adhere fully and completely to their will.
In an even more abstract scene, we watch as performers Ronita Mookerji and Sharanya Ramprakash play a heterosexual couple very much in love with each other. This was by far the most powerful scene of all, as we watched the woman (Ronita) form violent fantasies about killing her husband, and the facade she is forced to keep up. Watching as she forcefully writhes about in emotional and mental turmoil, precariously balancing on her palms, one feels her fears of not being good enough to exist in this world, and her inadequacy born of society’s misogyny, made more powerful still by the almost uncaring, incidental lo-fi elevator music, and the occasional wail heard in the background.
And even though it doesn’t strike you at first, midway through the performance, it hits you like a sucker punch, these feelings of absence and desperation to be seen, to be heard and to no longer be oppressed, not just for women, but anyone who’s ever felt disenfranchised, like a living ghost in chains. At the end of this series of ordeals, there is unread paper strewn all over the ring, and the two women are left in their original workout gear, kneeling and staring at each other’s tired, broken bodies. They hold each other, as if in solidarity, determined to let their voices be heard and stand against the continued abuse and silencing of their gender. The fight is far from over, but perhaps there is hope yet, if only you as the audience are willing to listen and help in this unending match.
Photo Credit: Aparna Nori
i am not here streams from 20th to 26th January 2021 as part of the 2021 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. Tickets available here
The 2021 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival runs from 20th to 31st January 2021. Tickets available from SISTIC
For the first time, the Fringe is launching a special stay-home package to catch all performances at the festival via SISTIC Live. For an exclusive rate of $95, get access to all videos on demand of the Fringe performances throughout their screening periods.
Check out more information and the safety measures at venues the Fringe will be held at on their website here