Janabai, version 2.0
A solo act brings alive the Bhakti poet’s spirit to deal with issues of women’s body rights
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