WORK by SOHAYA VISIONS AND MUKUL & GHETTO TIGERS
Sohaya Visions and Mukul & Ghetto Tigers are two arts companies set up by diasporic South Asians in the UK, the former in 2017 in West Sussex, the latter in 2011 in East London.
Although the leading artists have backgrounds in India and Bangladesh, such national parameters mean little when diasporic experiences compel a collective need to tackle larger injustices against people of different racial or ethnic identities in the Global North.
Their collaborations with other artists involve those from Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds - either born in Britain or in South Asia - as well as a variety of other artists in the UK context. Foremost in their minds is their intention to celebrate and reinvent South Asian heritage and culture through song, dance, drama, film and the digital arts, so as they can serve the objective to tackle intersectional inequalities.
Their 2020 drama film production, Lalon: Heart of Madness, showcased the poetry and songs of the eighteenth-nineteenth Bengali Baul renowned for his revolutionary zeal against religious, caste and gender discrimination. As Lalon stated, ‘In the ancient temple women were the prime priest, respect women for the shakti she holds.’
Vocalists, Sparsh Bajpai, Delwaar Hossain Dilu and Sadia Chowdhury, sing through the warp and weft of a story about a woman, Luna, and her struggle between independence and betrothal. Inspired by the philosophical songs of Lalon, she discovers the strength to resist social stigmas and the slut-shaming of a free-thinking woman as ‘a mad and bad woman’ in the eyes of the world.
Exploring gender fluidity, the drama starts with an ethereal rendition of ‘Ami Opar Hoye Bose Achhi’ (‘Helpless, I’m Waiting’) by what appears to be a woman dressed in white walking through a forest. Lalon’s songs are then conveyed through a male figure that draws Luna to the heart of madness rather than the path of maya as unequal fabrications of the world.
Photo credits for Lalon: Heart of Madness, Tarun Jasani and Rez Kabir
The two companies’ 2021 production, Kama Sci-Fi, decolonises the ancient text of the Kama Sutra while showing women as taking charge of their own sexuality.
Trained in Delhi and now living in the UK, the Sangeet Natak Akademi award-winning Kuchipudi dancer and choreographer, Arunima Kumar, stars as Chandra - a time-traveling devadasi from eleventh century Khajuraho who meets the British Asian, Aditya in the modern era - an encounter that leads to a comical clash of worldviews.
Women here are not just exotic objects for Orientalist and sexualised consumption as the Kama Sutra has been conventionally portrayed in the west, but masters of their own heritage as Chandra teaches Aditya the holistic arts of life and love afresh.