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Review: AURAT RAJ عورت راج औरत राज at 25a Belvoir

Reviewed by Kate Gaul

Writer, director, and producer Pratha Nagpal’s “Aurat Raj” reflects on the integral relationship between women’s work and their culture in south Asian societies. I know this because I read it in a blurb. I also know that “Aurat Raj” (transl. Women's Rule) is one of first Pakistani feminist film. Released in 1979, it is a satirical movie and was produced during the grim times for women under the conservative dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq's, socio-politically adverse dictatorship. The plot of the film is based on a short story of Shaukat Thanvi, where oppressed women of Pakistan fight back by forming a feminist movement on roads and gain political power too. After gaining political power, in a satirical comedy fantasy scene, the female lead gives a taste of patriarchy and misogyny to Pakistani men by converting all of them into women a time. The fantastical scenarios, musical flights and comedic twists in the film have been hailed as interventionist tools and techniques that help to complicate and refashion the present by envisioning radical futures.

As part of the 25A program, this is a non-verbal movement piece, performed by Vinaya Elijala, Kirthihaa Veluppillai, Anusha Thomas and choreographer Nikki Sekar. It is not immediately clear what is happening but nor is it entirely abstract.  The open interpretation available to audiences is refreshing. Four women move around. Clump of knotted fabric that hangs from the ceiling.

The simple narrative, it seems, revolves around a group (family??) of women working as automaton, performing repetitive manual work with focus, precision, and clarity. This is hard graft, and it is obvious that the work is back breaking and menial. When the youngest rebels against the hard discipline of what appears as a traditional role, she is cast out. The disruptive effect of this upon the community is dramatically symbolised by the collapse of the knotted fabric, the very fabric of their society.

The simplicity of the presentation is enhanced by the modest colour palette (Hailey Hunt, designer).  The pale costumes of the women catch the exquisite light (Tyler Fitzpatrick), and the gold, pinks and bronzes of the hanging fabric is alluring.  Christine Pan’s music an evocation of the poetic, the hopes, and dreams of the laborers.

Director Pratha Nagpal was born in Delhi before she and her family migrated to Australia in 2015. She says she turned to the lived experience of those around her to carve out the vision for this production.

In an interview I read that "Aurat Raj” started as a work of curiosity – I was curious to understand the relationship women have with their labour in South Asian cultures," Nagpal is quoted as saying.

"I saw the women of my family on a trip back to India and saw their place in our society. It made me wonder how labour is deeply tied to culture and made me question what culture asks of our women…. Sometimes it feels like women are both disposable but indispensable too – this dichotomy of our necessity in culture. That's where the work was born."

This is a modest work created by emerging artists.  As it is programmed as playing alongside  with the work in the Belvoir upstairs theatre, “Nayika A Dancing Girl” it becomes part of a welcome South Asian showcase for local audiences.

Image Supplied


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