Pawan Dhall previews a choreographic presentation queer not just in content but in form too

Three hundred and seventy-seven acts of intimacy between two men . . . on a charpoy! Well not literally that many perhaps, but queer enough to raise eyebrows in an India that is more British than Britain itself? And what if these acts can be witnessed up close – in an intimate arena? What will you do – enter or not, stay or leave?

Find out coming January 16 and 17 at a performance of Queen-size, a choreographic exploration designed by Mandeep Raikhy and performed by Lalit Khatana and Parinay Mehra. The performance will “examine the nuts and bolts – carnal, mechanical and emotional – of a close encounter between two male bodies” – to quote the event promotional literature posted on a crowd funding link on Ketto.

Inspired by late gay activist and filmmaker Nishit Saran’s article Why My Bedroom Habits Are Your Business published in Indian Express in January 2000, the performance is very much about protesting the archaic and discriminatory Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. But the performance game plan is also meant to “pose questions around spectatorship, privacy and dissent”.

Mandeep Raikhy, who has been engaged in dance the last 18 years, explains: “The idea is to engage the audience closely in the show, but it is also important to encourage them to reflect on the larger issues involved rather than view the show as just about the two performers. So the two and a half hour performance will be in fragments, allowing the audience to flow in and out of the arena at regular intervals – to break the linearity of narrative and give people the option to move in or out.”

On how the performance was received in places like Aizawl and Imphal, among the most recent places where the production toured, he says “The reception everywhere was good – there wasn’t much difference between how the performance was received in smaller cities and the bigger urban centres.” This maybe a good pointer at the need for dismantling myths about how small-town India views intimacy, sexuality and indeed dance itself, among several other issues that metropolitan India claims at its fiefdom.

The livewire behind bringing Queen-size to Kolkata is well-known contemporary dancer Paramita Saha, who is Co-Director with Sapphire Creations Dance Company and Director at Artsforward, an agency that deploys the arts for conveying key social messages. Visibility excited about the venture, she says: “This event will be the debut of At The Still Point, an independent platform that I want to create for dance that is crowd-funded by dance lovers, people who want to see international quality dance in Kolkata – not necessarily large format shows but site-specific, intimate dance discourse.”

As she talks about the use of the charpoy in the performance, one remembers another ‘performance’ where the charpoy was quite integral to the show. The charpoy, rather the khatia in question starred in the 1994 film Raja Babu, more specifically in the song Sarkaye Liyo Khatia Jada Lage. As it bore down on you from every screen – silver or any other – in the country, the song left nothing to imagination and yet did not invoke any law on ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ sex. Queen-size on the other hand seems like a stimulating invitation to unshackle your imagination and some more.

The show will be on January 16 and 17 at the Range gallery, 54 Lower Range, Kolkata 700 019 from 7 pm each day and requires pre-bookings – click here.

Main artwork credit: Squares and Circles and At The Still Point