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‘Whose sari now?’ Elegance or submission?

‘Whose sari now?’ Elegance or submission?

November 12 2015

What does a sari mean to you? Do you wear one? If not, why? How do you drape your sari and what does it say about you?

By Tasha Mathur

IT IS ONE of the most recognisable stand out garments of any culture.
The sari has been a staple garment for many South Asian women for generations and is recognised worldwide. With so many different styles (a different one for almost every state in India) and constantly changing fashions, it’s something that is firmly established within the South Asian tradition.
However, how many have stopped to wonder about the rich history and power that this piece of fabric holds? Playwright, actress and artistic director of Rasa Theatre Productions, Rani Moorthy aims to explore this in her latest play, ‘Whose Sari Now?’
Moorthy will examine the role of the sari in the many different characters that she plays; from an elderly Asian woman whose saris are like her second skin to a transgender reflecting on his girlfriend’s sari obsession.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Rani Moorthy during her busy rehearsal schedule to find out more… (ACV): Can you give us a brief summary, in your own words, of what ‘Whose Sari Now?’ is about?

Rani Moorthy (RM): It’s a one woman show where I play five different characters who are diverse in age, status, caste from the sub-continent and the South Asian diaspora. Each character brings a unique insight and perspective on the sari creating a series of intriguing and entertaining moments within the play.

ACV: Where did you get the idea of ‘Whose Sari Now?’ from. What were you influenced by?

RM: Ideas usually stem from my observations as a migrant many times over and it allows me to look at the sari from personal to the political to the global. I noticed that in the UK the role of the sari in public spaces was almost disappearing. Many of the first generation South Asian migrants who wore saris as an everyday garment started disappearing from the public sphere. I really wanted to find the stories that need to be told about the way in which this very iconic garment winds its way into and out of our lives.
ACV: Did you face any challanges when having to play all of the characters in the play?

RM: The main challenge in a show that I describe as a book of short stories, is that each story is a snapshot of a character’s life and you need it to tell a whole story but also leave you satisfied as it’s a condensed moment in this character’s life. I need to make them distinct. I learnt a few accents and dialects and I do a whole scene in Tamil, which will be subtitled, but I also wanted to make it intriguing and funny.

ACV: The strapline for the play is “Debunking the myth behind the sari. Beyond the Bollywood wet sari.” What do you believe this ‘myth’ to be?

RM: A garment that has thousands of years of history is always attached to myths and legends. But in contemporary history the sari is still a very complicated garment for those of us who reject the whole idea that it somehow instantly gives you all the virtue and feminine appeal which history stems from patriarchal values (not that we’ve weaned ourselves away from this just yet).

ACV: It sounds like each character in the play is so uniquely different. How did you go about creating each character?

RM: I wanted to really challenge myself and look at as many quirky, interesting characters as I could from all generations and the whole of the South Asian diaspora. I wanted to explore caste, class, and transgender politics and also celebrate the sari in a way that was refreshing and unique.

ACV: Is there a message that you hope to convey to your audiences through the play?

RM: I try not to have a message, as that can be so off-putting when all I want is to evoke curiosity and a sense of adventure in the audience. Everyone and not just South Asians probably have their own notion of what a sari is and I really hope the play lifts a veil on characters they probably don’t meet in everyday life.
ACV: You are encouraging people to bring their own sari to the play, why is that?

RM: The sari is both liberating and also the most exposing. There is something about draping six yards of cloth around you that empowers but also makes you quite vulnerable. There is beauty and grace but also discomfort and the fear of it all unravelling. I just want to generate conversation around the sari.

ACV: With Indian traditions and culture becoming more Westernised and saris themselves becoming more modern, how do you see the relationship between women and their saris are changing?

RM: There is a reticence to wear the sari and learning the drapes as I had to. The instant sari is fast becoming the norm and there has to be some kind of revival. Also the traditional weaves are making way for more computer generated designs and I hope there is room for all ways of wearing the sari.

ACV: What is your own personal relationship with the sari?

RM: Very complicated as it’s both celebratory but also challenging in that putting it on immediately positions me in a traditional role, imbues me with an uncomfortable patriarchal notion of the feminine virtuous (Hindu) woman.

ACV: I understand this is a trilogy, can you explain more about the next two parts?

RM: This show is the sari from a woman’s perspective whereas Handloom is set in a sari shop called ‘Handlooms’ and will hopefully be a site-specific show all from the male perspective of the sari business. The third part will be a musical.

ACV: What do you think audiences will be able to take away from ‘Whose Sari Now?’ and what’s next for the play?

RM: Everyone who is curious, has a sense of adventure, enjoys all culture and who is absolutely happy to open their hearts and minds WILL enjoy ‘Whose Sari Now?’ There will be a summer tour of UK so watch this space.


Leicester’s The Curve Theatre – 12th, 13th (post-show talk) 14th November

Manchester’s The Lowry Theatre – 19th November (post-show talk)

London’s Rich Mix Theatre – 20th November (post-show talk)

Don’t forget to bring your own sari, or better yet…come along wearing one…

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture


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