What it means to be a ‘loose woman’

Veteran dancer and theatre artiste Maya Krishna Rao in her performance redefines, and explores the meanings around, the seemingly derogatory word

The sealed silence at the auditorium at Goethe Institut, Nungambakkam, is broken rhythmically by a monotonous sombre guitar note. Clad in a black kurti, Maya Krishna Rao walks across to the stage — a slight limp in her gait. “It’s the humidity maybe, my feet are swelling up,” she says. But her performance of Loose Woman today, as part of Basement 21’s March Dance, must go on, says the veteran dancer and theatre artiste.

“A loose woman is one who stretches herself in different thoughts, directions… in every way possible,” says Maya, munching on an apple during her break from rehearsals. “You know how sometimes you’re stuck in traffic and wonder what would happen if you just left your car, flung your shoes, and escaped the city. That freedom is also looseness.” Her latest piece takes an essentially derogatory word in the centre, and explores the meanings surrounding it. Marrying the personal with the political is something she is known for.

The use of art to raise political awareness has become synonymous with Maya Krishna Rao’s style of theatre. In 2015, she was one of the first artistes to return her Sangeet Natak Akademi Award over the Government’s silence on the rising intolerance against minorities in the country.

The art of protesting

  • Early this month, artists across Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and many other cities, came together to protest against, and overcome, an atmosphere of hate propagated by right-wing fringe elements, under the banner: ‘Artists Unite!’

But she doesn’t brand what she does as ‘protest’ or sending a message to the audience; instead, it’s a call-and-response. “There is always a pull between the personal and the political. When the things happening in the world affect you, you feel the impact within your homes. You are moved to respond. So my performances are like markings, responses to what I see,” she says. Then, there are times they are event-driven, she says, explaining how, in August last year, she whipped up within two days, a performance protesting the dilution of the Right to Information Act.

These responses when done on the streets, take the form of protest theatre, and when inside a space, become a performance. “What gets quickly improvised as protest, is brought back to a rehearsal space where it is cut and explored and made into a show.”

Being woman

“I developed Loose Woman when I was exploring the daily routine of a woman,” she says. The show is set in different episodes — in one, she describes how her 96-year-old mother too, could be called a loose woman. In another, as the protagonist explores her identity deciding on what kind of a woman she wants to be, she ends up meeting Mahatma Gandhi.

What it means to be a ‘loose woman’

“What other person could be kicked out of a train bogie, in a three piece-suit, pick himself up, come back, completely change his lifestyle, and lead a country. You need to have looseness to step into the unfamiliar,” she says, in her trademark heavy drawl that is reminiscent of her namesake TV character, Maya Sarabhai.

It is poetic that ‘looseness’ is the theme of her show, considering how it has always been part of her form. All her shows are improvised in such a way that the same piece takes on a different life when performed again. Years of training in Kathakali helps this process, says the artiste.

“In this piece, music is of the essence. I let the music or the silence in between impact me, and let the imagination flow. Then you grab the passing idea, and develop it further,” she says.

Loose Woman will be held on March 14 and 15 from 7 pm at Goethe-Institut, Nungambakkam. Passes (₹200) are available at the venue. For pre-booking, text 9962486721.

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