Friday, 20 January 2017

Dramaturgically Made in India: Satinder Chohan

In a surrogacy clinic in Gujarat, three women meet.

Londoner Eva is in motherhood’s last chance saloon. For village girl Aditi, dairy worker and single mother, surrogacy is a lifeline out of poverty. For clinic owner and businesswoman Dr Gupta, it’s all just another transaction.

But set on the fault lines of profound global forces, can it possibly remain that simple?

A thrilling new play about motherhood and blood ties between women and nations in a brave new world.

Forgive me if this sounds a little negative to start off with, but I am struggling with the idea of political theatre at the moment (mostly because I live in my head too much, but...). 

I worry that a play which addresses a political or social concern can pander to an audience, in that it states a situation, the audience nods their heads in agreement, then leave and do nothing about it. What is it for you that makes a serious topic like this good for the dramaturgical treatment?

Agreed, it’s difficult to write plays like this and put them into the world - a depressing enough place as it is. But we need serious plays that challenge audiences and might make us think about political or social concerns or glimpse another world we wouldn’t know about otherwise. To realise we are connected to a bigger world or other worlds. To let those connections and contrasts percolate dramatically, maybe resurface elsewhere in our lives when and where we might do something about them in our own lives or the lives of others.

With ‘Made in India’, I hope audiences might make connections as Western consumers who rely on low-cost, low-paid global workers to provide the material stuff of our lives - whether a pair of trainers or a baby. Because we’re the ones who can afford to blank out those workers’ lives and struggles rather than understand how we connect to them. 

Also, since ‘Made in India’ is also a layered play about gender, global economics and reproductive technology - those complexities need to be approached from different angles. I hope the play does that by showing the entwined lives of three very different women in a fertility clinic in Gujarat.

Actually, I was talking about the show the other day (on my radio show) and suddenly got excited because it struck me that the subject matter was not just looking at a literal story, but spoke to the way that the west treats India - as a kind of resource hub for consumer goods, and damn the consequences. Was this a factor in your approach to the script?

Absolutely – and it’s a play that deliberately explores colonial and neoliberal relationships between India and the UK. Commercial surrogacy is a fitting metaphor for it all. In India’s service or ‘surrogacy’ economy, locals are hired to service a global/Western economy. 

Many are Indian worker ‘surrogates’ substituting Western workers, who are even given Western names in call centres, for example. Commercial surrogates work for profit-driven clinics and affluent global clients - like low paid workers say in the sweatshop or electronics industry. Whether it’s about their exploitation or empowerment, there are still frequent reports of low pay, harsh working and environmental conditions, health risks, excessive overtime, child labour etc that suggests there is still much to do to protect these marginalised workers. It shouldn’t just be about valuing profit over workers and sacrificing human dignity for a quick blood stained buck. 

‘Made in India’ tries to explore this terrain. It’s also interesting because as a society we’re only just catching up with the repercussions of reproductive technologies such as surrogacy - hence the recent ban on commercial surrogacy in India. In our ‘everything for sale’ society, the reproductive technology industry perfectly plays out this controversial, highly charged financial markets vs morality debate.

Another thing that I angst about (and I am sorry that I am asking you to talk about stuff that, I think, needs loads of different people to discuss in any depth) is that there is an under-representation of diverse voices in theatre. 

I know that you work hard to address this, but are there any particular problems that you face when you try to broaden the stories that are told on stage?
I’m so glad you asked this question because from theatre companies to theatres to mainstream play publishers, it’s incredibly tough to get non-mainstream stories like this read, heard or seen. There is a real reluctance to expand an audience’s understanding of the world, by presenting challenging new diverse work, which is seen as too risky, irrelevant and marginal. I’ve been (struggling!) in theatre for about a decade now and sadly, nothing has changed from trying to get my first play staged to trying to get this play staged. You never know if the next one will happen and if it does, it takes years to do. Always back to square one! 

In fact, it feels like a much tougher climate now for new writers like me. It’s vital we have opportunities to tell our diverse stories before they disappear but it’s hard when the theatre establishment repeatedly closes doors on us and we’re struggling to make a living from it all. 

For now, I’m so grateful to Tamasha and all the other theatres involved for staging this work and supporting writers like me who desperately need the experience of our work being staged, so we can preserve our stories, reach out to new audiences and become better writers.

And an old stand-by: what companies would you say are either an influence or working in similar areas to you?

I wish I had more experience of other theatre companies. Obviously, all the ‘Asian’ theatre companies like Tamasha and Kali who give voice to our work have been a huge support and influence and without them, I wouldn’t be a writer today. Other Asian theatre companies like Tara Arts and Rifco are doing seriously important work too. I also admire companies like Clean Break and Paines Plough for their passionate commitment to new writing. As a diverse writer, I still hope to work with more varied theatre companies but mostly, it’s hard to get a look in. 

Still, I’m hugely thankful that companies like Tamasha and Kali exist, understand our creative struggles and make us feel we belong to a creative community – especially when an alienating, insular British theatre establishment makes it as difficult as possible for diverse creatives to develop and for our stories to be heard.

No comments :

Post a Comment