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Vagina Monologues Hits India Trouble


Originally published in:
BBC News
03/12/2004

By Jayshree Bajoria

The women's stage production The Vagina Monologues has been banned from the southern Indian city of Madras.

The current version of the production, staged earlier this week in Bombay, stars Hollywood actresses Jane Fonda and Marisa Tomei.

The show, which has been a controversial sell-out around the world, explores female sexuality and strength through individual women telling their stories through monologues.

Madras police refused permission to stage the show after finding certain portions of the script "objectionable" and warning it could pose a threat to public order.

It has already faced bans in other parts of the world, including China and Malaysia.

The play was staged in Pakistan in an invitation-only show last October.

Pakistani actress Ayesha Alam, who is a member of the troupe that is staging the production in India, told BBC News Online about the problems of showing it in her own country.

"It was very difficult to perform the Monologues in Pakistan. It even got discussed in the national assembly. Many thought that the play was promoting promiscuity, was against our culture and our religion," said Ms Alam.

Stirring stories

The play might have hit an obstacle in Madras, but is likely to roll on famously to other cities if the audience reaction to its first performance in the western city of Bombay, also know as Mumbai, is any indication.

The new production with Jane Fonda and Marisa Tomei has been providing Bombay audiences with an unforgettable evening of stirring stories and scintillating performances.

Singer Usha Uthup and Jane Fonda

Staged in a plush party room of a luxury hotel in the city, it has showcased some uninhibited and honest stories of women and their vaginas and problems of violence they have faced.

The troupe included the woman behind the Vagina Monologues, playwright Eve Ensler, and a number of Pakistani actresses who were launching a campaign to stop violence against women called V-day.

Giving her show an Indian spin, Ms Ensler read out an excerpt called 'Jaadi' (Fat) from her new story 'The Good Body'. The story is based on her conversation with an obese Indian woman trying to lose weight.

"I have been interviewing women in India about their bodies. I performed it as a way to show my appreciation for Indian women," she said.

Jane Fonda also read out a story to an enthralled audience.

She told the audience that when she was contacted to take part in the show three years ago, she had refused saying she "had enough problems".

But when she saw Ms Ensler perform the Monologues in New York, "it changed my life," Fonda said.

"I was a feminist. Well I thought I was totally a feminist. What I discovered was that I was a cerebral feminist and watching the Monologues brought [my feminism] from my head into my body. The play had a big effect on my life, and I decided to become part of the global movement [on women's rights]."

'Men should watch the play'

Marisa Tomei was an instant hit with the audiences when she told a story about "my short skirt". Ms Ensler gave the audience a glimpse into the spirit of the play.

Former model and actress Pooja Bedi was among the celebrities in Bombay

The audience swayed, cheered, clapped and danced to songs sung by two Indian singers, and gave the show a standing ovation when it ended.

A man in the audience, Nandu Bhagwat, who danced to the songs in the production, said more men should watch the play.

"I am glad women are coming out to speak. I hope other men would think what I thought while watching the play - women are not merely sex objects," he said.

The Indian performers were happy about the response.

"We've had all full house shows and standing ovations. The play has touched a chord in everyone's heart," said Dolly Thakore.

The production will now move to Delhi.