Deep Fried Jam and the Reflection of the Socio Political Society in its Performance
This post shall be looking at the Deep Fried Jam performance and direction of Maya Rao. The Paper will analyze her techniques in the play. In particular it will focus on how she uses her act as a medium through which an effective narration is conveyed. Her techniques include the Alienation effect, Alienation affect (a completely new approach that looks into the gender issues and critically analyzes the influence of alienation effect in gender discourse), and her own way of improvising with voice, props and even individual beings from the audience. The study will be based upon the use of costume, acting style, use of light and form of set. Through these elements her performance is effectively carried out and the intended purpose of connecting with the audience is achieved. The paper will try to address the following questions
I) What are these techniques?
II) To what an extent are these techniques able to exhibit the issues?
III) How are these techniques improvised through her use of props that represent various thematic elements?
The issues that I am referring here are of the socio-political, women’s rights, challenges to women in the male dominating societies, biographical (that portray the elements from her life as a primary source), and cultural context. These contexts have been an influential and visible factor to shape her performance. The show Deep Fried Jam was performed in the year 2002 at National School of Drama as a part of Bharat Rang Mahotsav which brought forth concerns that included the inner turmoil of women, the gender issue, violence against women and commodification of bodies. I will be using her performance as a text to show my arguments regarding the above mentioned concerns that I see in the show.
The issue of body, its conflict and its representation in the society (I mean the patriarchal system that holds the command of the society and lets only those events get executed that they feel pleasing for their sake) is clearly visible through the performance that Maya has in A Deep Fried Jam. Her body moves in the theatrical space in a codified way that makes a suggestive appearance to the audience about the issues that she is going to exhibit in the one hour span. Her performance can be divided into three sections based upon the idea of her participation in the performance actively and using the technique of alienation effect so as to make the audience feel disillusioned and critically ensure that the audience does not fall into the surface rhythm of the performance and lose the major concern that Maya Rao is concerned about. Her concern is to make the audience bewusst as german author Guenter Grass had written in the poem Ohnmacht gefallen where he portrays this idea that in order to make the people aware of the issues and incidents happening in the socio-political domain we have to use the drum or instrument that is not very pleasing when beaten for the purpose of making sound, that does not let the people lose their consciousness and conscience. This idea of alienating herself from the character that she is performing and making it visible when a non-performing person is involved during the performance clearly justifies the concerns that is to be addressed in the theater domain.
The beginning of the performance is a symbolic representation of the conflict and tension that is imposed upon the body (more specifically the feminine body that is objectified and made a subject of male gaze in the domain) which is shown on a screen with unclear voices added to it. This section is one of the three parts that I am going to analyse in the paper. This section takes the elements of distorted voice that creates an effect that can be associated with the representation of female voices that are are always in any way silenced. This part of her performance raises several questions like what is the share of women in the society? How can they place their opinion in the society and take an active participation in the representation of their own problems, rather than letting the male community to present women’s issues. There is also another scene in the performance that I see as a part of the first section. This scene includes the end part of the performance where a bowl with water, salt and a bangle is shown on the screen in deep focus. This scene also raises the issue of women identity. The dissolving salt in the water suggests the nature of patriarchal society that dissolves the identity of women (as an equal entity in the society) volatile and does not let it last long so as to make them incapable of creating a lasting impression in the domain of participation. The first part that is only infused with action going on on the screen only and accompanied by a very strong but unclear audible voice that makes certain things radically clear. It gives the impression of a muffled voice of women who do not give up on their struggle against the exploitation and violations upon their fundamental rights. The bangle that is also put inside the bowl along with water and salt does not dissolve and this insoluble nature of bangle becomes a representation of the women identity with a resistance that would challenge the patriarchy and its rusted values and norms.
A. Mangai quotes in her book Acting Up in the chapter Female Impersonation ‘Anuradha Kapur’s Sundari examines the performance of gender – for , as she notes, gender emerges through the repeated performance of a set of actions that the performance of gender is, as it were, according to the codes a society wries up; sitting standing walking, weeping all have social regulations that allow or disallow particular actions…...if the body is a social script then the performance of gender is a social act governed and engineered by codes that are embedded in prevailing social structures.’ she goes on to say: ‘Women directors are concerned to surface and make visible this process of gendering: the process of showing …..how men and women are made’ (Theater India, May 2001, 10). The argument posed by Anuradha Kapur certainly brings with it possible and already prevalent notions that are always censoring the moves that are carried out by men and women in the defined territory of society. Here when I am mentioning men and women, I mean the their neutrality in terms of being a participant. What really happens in that realm of participation is that the power dynamics of the society is distubed by the power-centric male community that does see women as a potential threat to their created atmosphere. This power-centric male community observes the female being as a potential threat to their authority and that leads to the male mentality turning into an exploitative momentum against women. Maya Rao also tries to make this process of gendering visible in her performance. It seems quite problematic when ideas and values are imposed upon the whole community as though they were no human beings but a mere machanised machines that are meant to follow commands of the master. The presence of bangle, that does not get dissolve in the water as does salt, a statue of a lady, stomping the roof with a stick in the beginning of the performance that is shown on a screen with a muffled voice all these elements make visible the process of gendering but one dimension that Maya is successfully able to add is to provide a lens of struggle, a way to break the barriers that have been socialized and do not give the impression that these gendering thing should be eradicated. Along with all the happenings, One question arises here regarding the nature of performance and its engagement with the audience. This engagement is quite unidirectional and limited to a small potential audience and I really doubt that the concerns and issues that Maya Rao tries to address through the performance will really reach the estimated impact in the societal domain. Another section refers to the alienation of herself from the character that she performs on the theatrical space. She lets the backstage performers make a virtual but visible presence in her performance. This is virtual because they do not appear physically as a performer but their visible presence is made on the stag through Maya’s performance. Maya Rao does not utter any word in this section. She only makes her body move in the space and makes a transformation that weaves the various layers of the performance. They assist Maya Rao with a live music that helps her to make a movement through her body in the space. This live music is sort of there visible presence that I am referring to. They make Maya think about her moves in front of the audience that makes her improvise the alienation effect in a subtle way. These various layers are of varying degree of intensities which include gender issues, political satire nostalgic connection with the changing scenario of Delhi, reference of jamun and its purple stain on the body, romantic episode of My Baby and the Tycoon phase when she performs wearing the typical black goggles. She is in black outfits that quite strikingly portrays her character there on the stage with the required feature that will help her to add layers to the proposed idea of portraying the issues in that framework.
Referring to the article ‘Enter stage left recognition redistribution and the A- affect where the author mentions For Brecht, the alienation effect was a way to achieve the ‘detached eye’ of seeing ‘socially-conditioned phenomena’ in a new light- no longer ‘ familiar’ but rendered strange and alterable. No less committed to the estranged eye of socially aware seeing, the A- affect works through strategies of heightened affectivity. Instead of a detached, observational mode of spectatorship, the objective of the A-affect is to move audience towards a reorintated perception of ‘socially- conditioned phenomena’. Thus, a technique of effectively realized destanciation might serve as a means to reawaken critical perceptions blunted or anesthetised by the ideological and economic forces of neoliberalism – to elicit an urgently needed political sensing that still the world might be otherwise’. It gives the idea that alienation effect that was used by Brecht and many theater practitioners who were of Brechtian tradition did see those phenomenon by acquiring that ‘detached eye’, that helped them to achieve the strangeness and defamiliarized but malleable form. Through this ‘detached eye’ in context where contrary to the A-effect, what A- affect does, is to move the audiences towards a completely new realm of socially conditioned phenomenon where they can feel awakened and critic the ideological and economic forces of neoliberalism. The moment Maya Rao is performing the corporate Tycoon in black googles, she visibly makes it clear for the audience to know her criticism and urgency to re-evaluate the new liberal approaches in the Nation. In this second section we see the vested purpose of sharpening of her critic and portrayal of the characters in an episodic manner. This creats a sort of ripple effect among the spectators which is visible to us only when they make certain laughing gestures, commentaries or passing of some lines. It brings me to conclude this second section- which I have tried to anaylise on the basis of two frames (A- affect and A- effect)- does not let the episodic characters stagnate in the frame only but also creates space for them to explore new socio-political frames in the mind of the spectators. The light effect can also be considered a big factor that played crucial role in enhancing the narrative that Maya intends to share with the spectator. This part of the scenography can be seen in the scene where light only focuses upon the legs while rest of her body is in complete darkness. She is spreading salt on the floor that becomes a symbolic representation of Gandhi’s Dandi March which was against the tax rule that the British had levied on the salt. Her move also seems to be a present day representation of that historic march (take by Gandhi decades ago) in the independent India bt still enslaved by internal forces. This section in my opinion does succeed in instigating the objectivity of the scenario and along with that lets a space of enjoyment where the audience can be overwhelmed by the strong emotions like anger, hatred, nostalgia….that Maya Rao portrayed through the characters in an episodic manner. The use of black goggles, salt, bowl, water, light (as a prop that kinetically lets the narration maintain the momentum during the performance) and the dupatta become a part of her technique that are used during the performance. The third part of the play occupies a major section in the performance. I am telling it a major section because music becomes a character there in the performance. Music very consciously establishes a presence in the performance and music played by the band and voice lent by them become a very dominant character that is motivating Maya Rao in the performance. It is the music that is making it smooth for her to bring forth those emotions, gestures, moves and some mudras. She very easily jumps from one character to another from one emotion to another from one narrative episode to another. Even her reference to dance forms, suggests that she is consciously acknowledging how vital music as the voice over is there in her performance. She is able to shift her moves with emotions in extreme forms . One perticular seen in which she says and I know……. and I walk……. I will never know. The intensity of the music along with the intensity of her facial expression, stark gestures and the strong emotions, move as if the music and she has become a character who is infused in one another. It is the music which I have been referring as a character certainly makes her bring some grotesque facial expression during the performance. This grotesque expression sort of gives us a frame through which the varying symbolic representation of political satire and cultural concerns (being in an unhealthy state ) are shown. These grotesque facial expressions in context to music becomes apparent only when she says during the performance when she has finished singing O baby ‘I am not a singer I am a dancer’. Here she is acknowledging the role of the musicians as a competent character in the performance.
June Katagiri has written in her paper ‘The Effect of Background Music and Song Texts on The Emotional Understanding of Children with Autism’ ‘Music can elicit emotions in the listener (Sloboda, 1991). Research has shown that the basic emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, and anger in music are communicated quite consistently to listeners (Gabrielsson & Juslin, 1996; Hevner, 1936; Rigg, 1964; Wedin, 1972). Musical cues that facilitate emotional responses are embedded in musicís tempo, sound level, timing, intonation, articulation, timbre, vibrato, tone attacks, tone decays, and pauses (Juslin, 2000). Individual cultural learning, musical training, life experiences, personality, and so on also contribute to oneís emotional responses to music (Abeles & Chung, 1999; Balkwill, Thompson, & Matsunaga, 2004; Bigand, Vieillard, Madurell, Marozeau, & Dacquet, 2005; Juslin, 2000; Rigg, 1964).’ Even though June Katagiri’s work focuses upon upon the effect of Background music and song texts upon emotional understanding of children with autism, I draw a similar and more close approach to seeing the intervention and consolidated presence of music and song texts in the theatrical domain with conscious spectators. The spectators whom I am referring to are certainly more alert and consciously register each and every slight change in tempo, sound level, timing, intonation, articulation, timbre, vibrato, tone attacks, tone decays, pauses…..So music in her performance become more of character that is also performing as much is required from it. Music also becomes malleable just like Maya Rao’s character transformation on the stage. Thus all these arguments regarding her techniques, ways of improvisation and how they are carried out in the episodic manner of portraying the narrative lead me to conclude the performance as a text. In conclusion the paper argues that Maya Rao does let her performance get diluted with the spectator. She certainly succeeds in exhibiting the purposed intention of narrating the sociopolitical satire, nostalgic rendition to the city of Delhi, memories with the purple stains of jamun, performing the song O baby, intensity during the salt, bowl and water ritual to make her techniques address the issues. Along with the translation of her performance and the impact of performance upon the limited number of audiences in context of Guenter Grass’s Gedicht in Ohnmacht gefallen where he says people must be awakened from their unconscious self.
closer home we have the more acute and sharp dialogue which manages to convey the deep rooted slumber that the Indian public has long been accustomed to. Ramadheer Singh a character from the movie Gangs of Wasseypur understood it aptly (though restricted to cinematic frame) when he says that till the time movies are there in India, people will always be fooled. One can go one step ahead and argue that everybody is a hero in their world not only in terms of the movies but also in terms of sports, politics, society and even as simple an aspect as being part of the quotidian. This sort of ‘heroism’ that one encounters is considered to be a dominant trait of the patriarchal system where men often exhibit a sense of superiority and dominance in myriad ways. Often such characteristics become a point in which they see an escaped route to catharsis to make up for their weakness, for their failures and other psychological factors that might have affected them. It is here that the plays and the performance of Maya Rao become important because she handles it delicately and deals with the problems in various layers. For instance, in some sections she will be performing the bodily changes the gender goes through and in other sections she manages to convey the spirit of the affected mind. The site of the action is always ‘out there’ and not ‘in here’. Maya Rao is important to us because she drags us from in here that is the place where we are comfortable in our private spaces to out there as she opens up the doors to the other side. This side makes us uncomfortable, it makes us think. If this what Maya Rao intended then she is largely successful. In the end I was confronted by the realities in a live manner.
1. Rao, Maya K. “A Deep Fried Jam” Bharat Rang Mahotsav, National School of Drama, 2002. S.A.A Library. Accessed: 20-11-2018
2. Mangai, A. “Female Impersonation” Gender and Theatre in India, 1979 Onwards, Acting Up, 2015, pp. 102-131. S.A.A Library. Accessed: 17-11-2018
3. Aston, Elain. “Enter Stage Left: ‘Recognition’ ‘Redistribution’, and the A-Affect”, Contemporary Theatre Review, 28:3, 2018, PP. 299-309, https://doi.org/10.1080/10486801.2018.1475365 Accessed: 17-11-2018 11:23 UTC
4. Grass, Guenter. “in Ohnmacht gefallen” 2008, http://www.uni-protokolle.de/foren/viewt/239814,0.html Accessed: 18-11-2018 14:34 UTC
5. Kashyap, Anurag. “Gangs of Wasseypur” 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xndCrKr3ha0 Accessed: 24-11-2018 7:13 UTC