Jan­abai, ver­sion 2.0

A solo act brings alive the Bhakti poet’s spirit to deal with is­sues of women’s body rights

Mid Day - - THE GUIDE - SHRAD­DHA UCHIL shrad­[email protected] Kanan Gill KRUTIKA BEHRAWALA [email protected]

YOU’VE seen Kanan Gill crack hi­lar­i­ous gags at his stand-up com­edy shows. But have you seen him crack an egg? Af­ter a week of prac­tice, he’s all set to show­case his newly ac­quired skill of cook­ing at an event ti­tled I Can Do That, where he will pre­pare a dish be­fore a panel of judges and an au­di­ence.

“I get a kick out of watch­ing the process and progress made by some­one when they’re learn­ing a skill, and how they get bet­ter at it even­tu­ally. So, I de­cided to push that to an­other level, where I learn some­thing new within a week,” Gill ex­plains.

He chose to go with cook­ing as his first chal­lenge. “I’ve al­ways been Maggi-level bad at it. No, worse. Over­cooked Maggi-level bad,” he laughs. So, he ap­proached chef Kelvin Che­ung, who helms the kitchens at Ban­dra restau­rants Bas­tian, The Drunken Clam, and One Street Over.

What did he learn from Che­ung? “I spent 11 hours with Kanan at the start of the week, teach­ing him the ba­sics. Things like how to chop and dice veg­eta­bles, and how to cook chicken,” says Che­ung.

The chef is known to be a task master in the kitchen, mak­ing em­ploy­ees do burpees (squat thrusts) ev­ery time they make a mis­take. “I think I must have done 100 burpees that day. I don’t know, I lost count,” says Gill.

Since then, the as­pir­ing cook has been hon­ing his new­found skills with the help of YouTube tu­to­ri­als. “I’ve made a lot of food, but most of it is bad,” he con­fesses, adding, “But I’m thor­oughly en­joy­ing the process. And the more I prac­tise, the less bad the food gets.”

On the day of the event, Che­ung will ask Gill to pre­pare a dish us­ing the tech­niques he has taught him. “He has no idea what’s com­ing. I will be throw­ing in a few curve­balls to make things in­ter­est­ing,” chuck­les the chef. He adds that while the co­me­dian will be left to his own de­vices through the event, he will have a life­line he can use if he hits a stum­bling block.

While Che­ung will be part of the panel judg­ing Gill, the au­di­ence seated at the venue will get to watch him ei­ther suc­ceed or fail mis­er­ably at his task. Rest easy, you won’t be forced to eat what­ever Gill ends up cook­ing. In­stead, the team at Bas­tian will serve guests a three-course meal.

Ini­tially, I Can Do That was to fea­ture a cou­ple of videos doc­u­ment­ing Gill’s ex­pe­ri­ence of learn­ing a skill. How­ever, it has now been ex­panded to be a series of five episodes. “Next, I’m go­ing to learn how to make elec­tronic mu­sic,” says Gill en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

Be­fore sign­ing off, we wish Gill luck with his en­deav­our. Che­ung im­me­di­ately in­ter­jects: “I think you need to wish me luck. I’m the one who has to taste his food,” he laughs. WEAR­ING a short, mauve dress and cat-eye frames, the 13th-cen­tury Marathi Bhakti poet Jan­abai ap­pears on stage and sits on a chairtable set-up that ap­pears to be a ra­dio sta­tion. As an RJ, she takes phone calls from four women, who dis­cuss is­sues of fac­ing do­mes­tic abuse, body sham­ing and even the stares they re­ceive when they buy san­i­tary pads. As agony aunt, Jan­abai doles out ad­vice and de­bates women’s right over their bod­ies.

This forms the premise of Ulka Mayur’s solo per­for­mance, Cast Off All Shame, which pre­miered re­cently and will wit­ness its fifth show this week­end. “I chose Jan­abai as the pro­tag­o­nist be­cause she ex­pressed fem­i­nist thoughts in her po­etry de­spite fight­ing sub­or­di­na­tion for be­ing born in a lower caste fam­ily. She didn’t see god as a higher power but her com­pan­ion, and a woman,” says the Ahmed­abad-born 40-year-old artiste, who has been part of the city’s the­atre cir­cuit for the last three years. Her pre­vi­ous acts in­clude a doc­u­men­tary the­atre piece ti­tled Loi­ter­ing, and a chil­dren’s play, Tik Tak Tales.

The per­for­mance is punc­tu­ated with Bhakti po­etry of Jan­abai’s con­tem­po­raries, in­clud­ing Kash­miri mys­tic poet Lal Ded, Kan­nada poet Akka Ma­hadevi and 14th-cen­tury saint So­yarabai that Mayur will sing live. “I play five char­ac­ters, and I get 20 sec­onds to tran­si­tion from one to the other, which is quite chal­leng­ing. How­ever, I’ve en­sured that the play’s tone is hu­mor­ous, not preachy,” says the artiste, who has also com­posed a rock ver­sion of one of the ab­hangas. The piece cul­mi­nates with a dance per­for­mance by Mayur, trained in kathak. “The idea [of the show] is to lib­er­ate your­self.”

Ulka Mayur as Jan­abai

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