by Mallika Shah
Before reopening in October for the first time since the pandemic, the four performers of Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan — Jasmine, Nagma, Nagina, and Zainab — met the singer-songwriter Tanmaya Bhatnagar on Instagram for a live interview.
As is usual with Instagram Lives, one party (Tanmaya) is always better acquainted with what to do, and the other party (Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan) comes on board with a shaky camera and a confused voice, “You are now live,” as the camera switches from back to front-facing, and we see the four girls come into view. They have arranged themselves spectacularly in front of the camera, was it intended? With theatre-makers, you never know! There are levels, there is a cat that jumps around a staircase in the back of the frame, there are whispers and accusations, “Nagma degi iska jawaab,” Nagma tries to disappear from the frame, but answers the question eventually — what is the importance of them having this platform to share their everyday lives?
“Hum kya bol sakte hai, aur kya nahi bol sakte.”
It is very difficult to share personal stories on stage in front of an audience without a character to hide behind. The girls know this all too well. They tell Tanmaya how there is so much ease in their rehearsals, so much space to share, and be themselves. Whereas in front of audiences, they feel much more restricted and vulnerable sharing their lived experiences. Before a show, they question themselves in terms of, “Hum kya bol sakte hai, aur kya nahi bol sakte.” What can or can’t be said in front of an audience?
The cast is very much aware of the audience’s gaze towards them, and in a play that is created to talk about the various perceptions they are subject to, shying away from being vulnerable is not an option. With each show, the performers consistently push the boundaries of their discomfort, and explore how much more they can open themselves. But it really is not easy. All four of the girls expressed that they often cannot face the audience after the show is over, needing a private space to reflect and just be.
“Kya hum abhi bhi bhagi hui ladkiyan hai, ya phir bhagi hui auratein?”
Nagina and Jasmine started devising the play for the Gender Bender Festival in 2016, with Dhwani Vij as their director. Nagma and Zainab then joined them in the cast, and they performed and toured heavily before the pandemic.
Now, six years later, they direct themselves, have grown from school-going girls to collegiate women, and find themselves running still. For them, running away is a safe space, it is a superpower, an ability to experience the present moment, while also viewing themselves from a distance. They ask themselves now, “Kya hum abhi bhi bhagi hui ladkiyan hai, ya phir bhagi hui auratein?” What does it now mean to be a woman who is running?
To find out, watch Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan at Harkat Studios, Mumbai on the 25th, 26th, and 27th of November at 7:30pm.