As the O.P.E.N came to a close on 4th July, some of us managed to catch the last ticketed performance right here at 72-13! It was none other than Frenemies – a passionate dance duet by Navtej Johar and Lokesh Bharadwaj! Read on as our Engagement Intern, Shifaa, shares her thoughts on the captivating performance.
Having read the synopsis, I was excited to be attending Frenemies. The exploration of culture in a performance is always interesting for me, especially so when the artist themselves are native to it. The manner in which the subject matter can be interpreted is a plenty- they could either stick to or deviate from the foundations.
Frenemies is loosely based on Jean Genet’s “The Maids”. I was curious- how does one use Bharatanatyam, a classical art form that is so entrenched in culture, religion and symbolism, and then dabble with subject matter as risque as sadomasochism?
As I entered the dimly lit black space in 72-13, the stage was bare- save for a white bolster, a low maroon red table with a white cup and saucer and a plate with cutlery, and a matte gray clothes rack with hung cream coloured garments- giving off a minimalistic yet domestic vibe. The space was compact and intimate as I took a seat in the back, waiting for the production to begin. The warm yellow lights gradually came on, revealing the two actors onstage, kneeling as they began their first movement sequence together in semi- darkness. It was a pensive start that gradually built up to multiple climaxes.
The movement sequences tampered with speed and rhythm, synchrony and disjuncture, a union and a severance between the two, with strong undertones of a power relationship. The scenes were infused with short segments of songs, possessing a raw beauty and tone to them that was enchanting. But it was nothing compared to the voice of Navtej Johar- beautiful, strained and honest- resonating throughout the space.
Two scenes struck a chord with me. One involved them grasping onto the ends of a long white cloth, repeatedly folding and twisting it into a knotted bouquet. It was seemingly simple but powerful- the slow, calculated inching towards each other, Bharadwaj’s strong unflinching gaze on Johar while he was coquettish and demure in his movements. Their meeting was contemplative but brief with Johar breaking contact as soon as it was over, leaving Bharadwaj grappling with the encounter.
The ending was reminiscent of an earlier scene where Johar was languidly fanning a Bharadwaj lounged on the bolster. In this, however, Johar commanded space and attention, sat alert and upright, his pose haughty and dignified. To me, it completely tipped the power balance and made clear the dynamics in such a compelling image.
While I definitely felt perplexed and could not put my finger on the performance after it ended, Frenemies brought me on a tempestuous journey that left me bewildered, captivated and intrigued- prodding me to research on the history and music of the devadasis and tawaifs to sew together the stray ends of my knowledge with this rich, unknown culture.
While The O.P.E.N. has ended, there are still events happening this week at 72-13! Do not miss your opportunity to catch Writing from The Heart, a series of plays written by 8 playwrights which will be read from the 10- 11 July. Register for the event here!