Wah! Wah! Girls
When we had caught up with the award winning playwright, Tanika Gupta a couple of months ago, she had informed us that her next project was going to be an extravagance of dance, drama and Bollywood! All ready to take the stage today, Sadler’s Wells’ Wah! Wah! Girls explores the fantastical world of the mujra dancers in a modern light. The Mughal era had its own allure – one characterized by hookahs aplenty, silk cushioned takaths, stunning anarkali outfits, impeccable pirouettes, gungaroos and tablas. The courtesans of that era were erudite women; skilled singers, poetesses, dancers and seductresses. Wah! Wah! Girls investigates the place of mujra dancers in today’s Britain through the art of theatrical storytelling.
A tale of two star-crossed lovers set against odds in London’s East End, the play explores the dark, hush-hush, underground market of mujra clubs. It paints a grim, yet sensitive picture of Indian women who are trafficked from India lured by the promise of being introduced to the film industry abroad. Once outside their country, homeless and penniless, the women are forced to join mujra clubs where they are made to gyrate to the beats of Bollywood music in front of a roomful of men.
Wah! Wah! Girls took Tanika three years to craft. During this period she interviewed the women who worked at mujra clubs, and also revisited cinematic masterpieces like Pakeezah, Umrao Jaan and Mughal-e-Azam to get a sense of both the worlds – then and now. An appointed Member of The Order of the British Empire for her services to drama, Tanika’s métier lies in analysizing and addressing problematic themes through her scripts. Apart from talking about the plight of mujra dancers, she also harps upon the issue of mixed race, ‘Wah! Wah! Girls has a multicultural cast – a Polish builder and an Afro-Caribbean love interest. At the same time it also looks at issues of young women running away from home, family honour and child abuse,’ she says.
Directed by renowned director, Emma Rice known for creating theatrical wonders such as The Red Shoes and Brief Encounter, Wah! Wah! Girls is a visual manifestation of the efforts put together by a commendable team of artists. This includes costume and set designer Keith Khan, light designer Malcolm Rippeth and sound designer Simon Baker. Tanika worked closely with music composer, Niraj Chag to create the contemporary world of mujra dancers. She even crossed over from scripting dialogues to writing lyrics for the play’s songs. There are also bewitching dance sequences choreographed by some of the best names in the Indian dance industry – Javed Sanadi and Gauri Sharma Tripathi.
Tanika’s next play is going to be a radio adaptation for BBC Radio 3. Taking inspiration from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, she has spun her own rendition of A Doll’s House and has set it in India. ‘It will be broadcast in October. Then, I go into production with my play for the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Empress which will be on in Stratford Upon Avon, at the beautiful Swan Theatre in a year’s time. I will be working with the same director – Emma Rice.’_
Catch Wah! Wah! Girls live at Sadler’s Well’s Peacock Theatre! (on till 23rd June, 2012)
By: Radhika Iyengar
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