“Please note this performance contains nudity.” I completely missed this part of the description of the Thoda Dhyaan Se (Be Careful) – a one woman show by Delhi based actress Mallika Taneja presented at Footscray Arts Centre as part of the Women of the World Festival (WOW). Taneja created the piece as a response to the violent rape of a young woman in 2012 which shook the world and instigated filmmaker Leslee Udwin to make the documentary India’s Daughter in 2015.
The performance was first created at the Tadpole Repertory as part of their show NDLS and was awarded the ZKB Acknowledgement Prize at Zurich Theatre Spektakel in 2015. The show is described as a satirical piece that challenges this notion of safety. Rooted in a widespread anger against the everyday violence against women, the performance confronts the unfortunate conflation between the manner in which women dress and the atrocities committed against them – as if the former begets the latter. Stripping down a culture hiding behind its conservative mores, international artist, Mallika Taneja exposes the contradictions at the heart of India’s stunted social progress.
The show begins with a surprise, as the actress appears on stage and looks at the audience for a few loaded minutes, allowing us to take her in. She is completely comfortable as she slowly begins talking and adding layers of clothes on her body as she moves from ideas of what the clothes represent, to how a woman presents herself, how it matters, the responsibility she carries towards her family and society at large. The responsibility she needs to take for any potential attack or abuse because her clothes are seemingly ‘asking for it’.
Very skilfully and subtly Taneja goes about the task of conversing with the audience while putting on various items of clothing. She truthfully presents the case of various voices in society, such as mums and aunts that lovingly tell a girl to ‘be careful’ without mocking them or confronting the audience. The ridiculousness of the spoken ideas become very clear however, as she gets more and more covered in clothes to become an almost shapeless mass – an object. Symbolising the objectification of a woman’s body, covered or uncovered.
The feelings, the disturbance, the discomfort one feels is not because of the display of emotions on stage, but the lack of it. The composed way in which the actress carries out her actions creates a space and invitation for one to feel their own way through the whole monologue, making it real. It is the reality and truth of the words that make them uncomfortable. A reflection of society that we live in that makes it disturbing. The objectification of a human being that makes it devastating.
The set is minimal yet effective, with white furniture on which colourful items of clothing are laid out. The direction is clear and crisp, making the performance speak a lot more in symbolism and metaphor than in dramatic emotional display. The performance is subtle, gentle, truthful and generous. The words bring a sense of familiarity and hold a mirror to society. The result is a cleverly crafted, well designed piece of work that drives home the desired result in unexpected ways. I didn’t expect to come out feeling so affected, that I could barely talk for a while.
The performance itself was short, and an important component of the work was a discussion which allowed the audience to speak. It generated a sense of identification for female members of the audience from Melbourne, and brought out a few issues to think and talk about. A powerful inclusion to the Festival program.
Women of The World Festival, Footscray Community Arts Centre