Today, due to the times we are living in, when we hear the word ‘item’, its original meaning (a commodity or a product) is not the first thing that comes to mind. On the contrary, we think that a reference is being made to an item number or a good-looking girl. Item songs have not only objectified women but also conveyed the message that it is okay to refer to a girl as an item, thereby reinforcing the male gaze. Pune-based theatre group Natak Company’s play Item addresses this issue in a unique way. Set in the B-grade film world, it tells the story of Sapna Shetty, a newbie who gradually sheds her inhibitions and becomes a superstar. Her tale is narrated through the eyes of L Rakesh, her assistant and how the male chauvinistic society exploits a woman’s image to sell its products.
Kshitish Date, the director of the play which has bagged two METAs (Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards) 2018, talks to After Hrs about tackling such a sensitive topic aesthetically on stage.
The play talks about the objectification and commodification of women. How did you tackle this issue?
Conversations about patriarchy, feminism and equality have been rampant in theatre circles. In hindsight, they helped me to articulate my thoughts and views while helming this play. Item gave us an opportunity to narrow it down and show it to viewers in a 90-minute play. We discussed this issue with the actors too, to find out how they view it and whether they have faced it too. We can notice objectification and commodification of women in every medium whether it’s in films, ads, theatre any form of popular culture or media. We read a lot about it and discussed it too at length.
The props play a significant role, especially the bed and the lights. How did you use them in the right way?
When we were working on the script, I had started visualising how the play would look on stage. There is a dirty studio floor, rusty light stands etc. It was quite interesting for me to direct this play and recreate the studio floor on stage. The bed plays a very important role. The setup is that of a B-Grade film. And on such sets, all the activities revolve around the bed. There is very less importance given to the kind of story that has to be told on screen. The makers of such movies are clear that they want to entertain and titillate people. It was a task to manoeuvre the double bed on stage and make the light men stand around it and cameraman move around it. The ensemble cast comprises light men and spot boys and the whole play is viewed from their gaze and perspective.
The narrator, too, plays a significant role as he tells the audience about the stark reality of the B-grade film industry.
What kind of research went in the play?
We watched a few films. It’s a very tiring experience to watch them completely, obviously because of the content (smiles). We went to the studio where these films are shot and asked the manager how many of them are filmed and what’s the duration. And the reality that emerged was even scarier because we learnt that three films are shot within 10 days. As the main setup is the same, only the actors change. We bought sex magazines that are available in railway stalls and I made the cast members read them aloud so that they get the diction and nuances right and understand the thought process of these people.