It is the age of Instagram, the epoch of the thigh gap and the flattering filter. Last year, 27-year-old "curvy" model Iska Lawrence, in collaboration in Elle magazine, released a video that explained how easy it is to change your appearance in pictures. "I just want to show you the real stuff," she says, in the video.
If we thought that the vast exposure to the internet would be an enabler to progress, we were mistaken. "All it does is amplify the existing patriarchal norms of women and how they are supposed to look," says Sophia Stepf, the director over C Sharp C Blunt.
It should make you want to scream. That's exactly what M.D. Pallavi, the star of this powerful one-woman show does. The show ends with a flourish, with Pallavi throwing her heart and soul into a single, heart-rending cry of frustration.
By the time Sophia and Pallavi met in 2012, the former had spent nearly a decade going back and forth from India, flitting through the yoga schools in Mysore and the theatre circuits in Mumbai and Bengaluru. She has worked extensively with the Indian theatre scene, with playwright Abhishek Majumdar in Bengaluru, Jehan Manekshaw in Mumbai and even directed a play with the National School of Drama in 2017. She was no stranger, therefore, to the prejudices that plague the Indian patiarchy and identified very much with M.D> Pallavi's world. "I interacted with her in all her different spaces - she is a singer and an actress, I did want to write a piece that would harness all those talents."
That's how Shilpa, the attractive app assistant came to be. Much like Samantha, in the Hollywood blockbuster 'She', Pallavi plays a smartphone app designed to suit the customised user experience. She asks the audiences to choose the voice quality they want to hear, ranging from sweet to husky, the music they enjoy and allows them to hear whatever pleases them. By the time version 404 rolls around, the user can even change Shilpa's appearance to suit their desires. The story grows heavier and more intense, which Sophia and Pallavi counter all through with generous doses of humour.
That's when things begin to change. "The application grows smarter and smarter and soon outdoes the human mind. She now has a super consciousness, one that far exceeds human understanding. "The app's many avatars are personified and they are now intelligent enough to say NO," explains Sophia. It is upto Pallavi to move seamlessly between roles, an indication of her artistic prowess and her degree of tech savviness - she conducts live looping and voice modulations as she tells her story. "Technology allowed us to play with the performance in many ways, through the looping she does on stage, for instance. For me, technology was an enabler, it allowed me to bring elements to a theatre performance that cannot be replicated on stage. It also makes the whole thing more interactive."
A play on a woman's life in the entertainment industry seemed the idea place to start for Sophia. "Why did I do this? I'm a feminist," she laughs. "I also have a three-year-old daughter and I wonder what world she will grow up to see." Her own experiences in the entertainment industry have also been rife with harsh bursts of reality. "We face it all the time, in terms of where we stand in a negotiation, how much we are paid and what power we have to state our terms. In some cases, we find that all the decision making has been assigned to men, you find the top of the chain of command and you see why! There are spaces, really, that seem to be closed off to women."
Done in collaboration with the Goethe Institut and Sandbox Collective, the play, which is Pallavi's first solo performance, will be staged this weekend. And it's just as relevant, if not more so, as it was when the idea was born five years ago. "Every country has these prejudices. In the West, you need to be skinny, in India, you need to be fair. Women are treated like products, honed to suit an audience, in an industry run by men."
What: C Sharp C Blunt
When: March 3, 7 pm
Where: Prabhath Kalapoornima, 1, 5th Main Road, 1st R Block, N R colony, Basavanagudi