The Mahila Manch, a brand all female new stand up comedy group in Ahmedabad, is entertaining audiences with ‘The Period Show’. We got group member Aarti Nair to share their story with us.
The beginning of 2018, brought me towards the end of my one-year sabbatical period in which I was to solo-travel, get fit, try consulting and writing as a career, and do standup comedy. I was approaching the end, and I had eluded myself from every other open-mic invite on Facebook.
Unlike what a lot of seasoned comics say, I always knew I wanted to do it; not because I am an extrovert who loves attention and thinks highly of her humour. I am in fact, an introvert who would never take up the stage for anything unless necessary. But I always had things to say.
After day-dreaming for two years and binge-watching every standup that surfaced online, I finally saw hope to perform stand-up in the name of Mahila Manch, a brand new group in my city, Ahmedabad. Mahila Manch came about like a safe haven for upcoming female stand-up comics led by Preeti Das, who until then was a friendly acquaintance and an elder-sister-figure I looked up to, and co-founder Shefali Pandey, a technology entrepreneur. Another highlight, the show series was quirkily called ’The Period Show’ because it was to happen once a month. Yet, I thought, “Oh, these people will be too elite. I don’t want to go there.” This is how I skipped the first show.
Before the second show, I somehow gathered the courage to write to one of the members. They welcomed me with warm hugs, without a single question on my content, no restrictions on what to say and what not to, just plain trust. The show had a theme but I was not bound to follow it. It was my first time and it was literally at a generous friend’s drawing room with 65 visibly squeezed people. The anxiety of a stand-up can be crazy. “I have hosted an event with 20,000 people with Shankar Ehsaan Loy and did not feel a thing while this stand-up comedy in front of 150 people for 8 minutes and my mic was visibly shaking,” says Aarti Boriya, one of the core performers and a radio jockey. Today, we are a group of 5 women from Ahmedabad, all from different professions and background. Apart from Preeti, Shefali, Aarti and I, there is Vidya (a Researcher). Apart from Preeti Das, none of us are professional comedians, so for us, ‘regular people’ from the public, getting such a mouthpiece in itself is an exhilarating experience.
In the past 6 months, the topics covered include LGBTQ, Rape, Alcohol, Female Sexuality and Orgasm, and Body Shaming, catering to over 1200 people in Ahmedabad with about 15 new performers, mostly women. In the Youtube-age, while every comedian around wants to put out their youtube videos and somehow go viral, we practice restraint. Some of our own content makes us vulnerable. For example, in our shows, Vidya shares her excruciating and awkward experiences filled with dark humour about being queer in this country. She provides a completely different take on womanhood. Vidya is, in fact, her stage name. For her safety and comfort, we can’t allow photography or videography during her performance. She can’t be tagged on FB either.
We don’t charge for tickets yet because we never saw the idea as one for profit making. But somewhere, this decision also comes from the inherent doubt of whether people will pay to watch us perform, and what if it reduces the number of the audience? That’s not something we want. At the end of each performance, little kids of the team members go around with a hat and seek money from the happy audiences. No compulsion. Besides that, I have been an entrepreneur myself and I know how it feels to be the only woman in a room full of men. And I notice the same thing in comedy. Out of 11 performers, at times, I am the only female. It doesn’t deter my confidence but it does make it slightly intimidating. Although, thankfully, I have never had a bad, heckling or angry audience.
Location is another challenge. It changes every month because not every venue owner is comfortable with our topics – sometimes the name, sometimes the context. Not everyone may want to offer their space for free. One week before the June show, our co-founder Shefali Pandey got a call from the venue owner saying they didn’t want us to perform anymore because we had named our open-mic as ‘Achhe Din. Achhe Jokes.’ The whole weekend went in running around, hunting for places, frantically calling out contacts but almost everything was booked. The content was hardly political or even aimed at a particular political party. It was an open-mic, an open event without any topic. But the hysteria around it surprised us. We did not change the title. Finally, a generous dance studio embraced us with open arms.
As far as the Period Show for July is concerned, we know that most people have appreciated the title ‘The Maa-Bahin Show’ which attempts to reclaim Maa-Bahen – it is not a swear word, It has been long used as one. As we anxiously await our first auditorium show supported by Univation, coming this Sunday evening, 29th of July at Prakash School Auditorium, Ahmedabad, we know that it will be wrong to say that we are just 5 women at odds with the world. Challenges are many but we have constantly got support, and love from the most unexpected people in gracious ways.
Get more details of show timings here and land up!
Images courtesy Mahila Manch
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