Women Writing Women

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12311092_10153062386381486_5417522718998964469_nLast year during the very last session of the writer’s development programme when we had a chance to have our scripts read out, Janet Steel the artistic director of Kali Theatre who were running the workshops, remarked how few of the scripts had a woman playing the lead character. This, despite the fact that all of us round the table were women!

The thought occurred to me again last night when, during a day-long workshop of my play ahead of its rehearsed reading this Friday, the lead actress, the very talented Shobu Kapoor talked about how excited she was to play the role I’d written for her. “I don’t get to play women like me”, she said (and I paraphrase), “I’ve been a single mum to my daughter since she was two. I go on dates, I meet men, I have a life but I never get written about. I am so fed up with the roles that get offered to me, almost always about arranged marriage that I often wonder why I am still acting. So these days, I have started writing for me. If no one else will do it, then I’ll do it myself. ”

Shobu brought a nuance and a darkness to the character that I had not envisaged while writing it. She embodied Durga with a richness that was both thrilling and humbling to watch.

When there are women all around us who lead infinitely complex lives, it is baffling that so few of us are choosing not to reflect reality this in our arts. As a result, actresses like Shobu Kapoor do not have roles to play and are reduced to cardboard cut outs. More is the pity.

Tickets for the rehearsed reading of my play Splinter to be staged on the 15th of January 2016 at Tristan Bates theatre in London can be bought by ringing 020 3841 6611 or from here


This Writing Life

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Albany Theatre, London where the workshop was held.

Yesterday I sat around a table for five hours with four actors and a director going over my script with a fine toothed comb. Earlier this year I wrote a play and submitted it to an open call by Kali Theatre in London and was selected to go on their writers development programme. So beginning in May, once every fortnight, I would attend a day-long workshop with playwrights and directors learning how to tell a story for theatre.

And after every session, I would tweak my initial script a little bit, sometimes even chopping whole sections out (a most painful amputation, I must say) because they didn’t work. I further worked on it while in India on holiday, seeking input from talented friends and family. I submitted my final draft in early September and found out some weeks later that my script had been selected for a rehearsed reading planned in January.

It was as part of this programme that I attended yesterday’s workshop. At one point, I was so overwhelmed to hear five other artists discussing, challenging and shredding my script to its bare bones. They care enough about the characters I created, I thought to myself. They are not indifferent to them. The actors who are playing them want to know more about these imaginary people I have given birth to. Who are they? Why are they reacting to each other this way? What has gone on before that informs these words they utter?

As a creative being, I have never felt more validation in my work than when I was sitting cross-legged on that chair surrounded by artists who wanted to breathe life into and embody my creations in the best possible way. I could not have asked for more. And then it got better.

Later,  as I was waiting for my train, one of the actors from the workshop who was with me at the station, told me that only last year he had lost his 22-year old sister. She was bipolar and had taken her own life. And the mother in my play who loses her 22-year old daughter, reminded him uncannily of his own mother in the way she handles her loss on an everyday basis.

I don’t know what it was about his confession that really moved me. May be it was that even though I was a stranger to him, this young man thought I knew what  his mother must be going through because I had imagined her pain. May be I just became aware of the power of art to move, inspire and ultimately heal people. I was staggered by the chord I had struck. I could have cried at that moment. And I did.


A Brown British Business Woman

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The other day, I heard about a networking group for black British business women. And the question naturally arose whether such a group was essential and would it then be alright to have a white alternative and possibly one for every hue going. I was told that such a group was not exclusively for Black women but that any woman or man could come along, though I doubt if many others who were not of that ethnicity would take up their invitation.

And this is an ongoing quandary in my mind. Do such selective programmes and opportunities promote division or do they address specific challenges faced by the group of people it is targeting?

I was recently selected for a writer’s development workshop run by Kali Theatre in London which was aimed at creating new writing from playwrights of South Asian origin. It was a fantastic experience being trained by some of the country’s leading talent including the very celebrated Tanika Gupta MBE and Sharmila Chauhan among others.

When I asked Tanika if such a programme was necessary, she told me to take any offer of training that came away instead of questioning its raison d’etre as such hubs of training and development for writers was hard to come by. Sharmila Chauhan mentioned that as an Asian writer she was still expected to write about terrorism and poverty. That if she wrote anything different, no mainstream theatre would ever produce it. It was only in places like Kali that writers of our extraction could be heard, she felt. A writer from our group mentioned how she was considering submitting her script with a more mainstream pseudonym in order for it to have a reasonably good chance of being read and produced.

Perhaps there is still a need to discriminate positively. After all, how many black British business women have you heard of? How many plays written by British Asian women have you watched? Of which how many were not about poverty or terrorism?

May be with enough gender and race specific support, we will not have scratch our heads to remember a black British business woman’s name. May be it will be natural to watch a whodunit written by someone who’s name is a Gupta or a Menon or even an Arumbakkam.