We had the pleasure of catching 2Tango Dazzle’s M.R.T. – For Women, By Women, an International Women’s Day special, three weeks ago. Our editor tells you what made the production an immense success.
Five Indian women find themselves stuck with each other in the cabin of an MRT when it breaks down. What ensues is a series of monologues and dialogues which address issues unique to women, both young and old, raised as members of the Singaporean Indian society. From unfair expectations of women to risqué humour, nothing is spared in this two hour long first-of-its-kind production. I think I speak for the female viewers when I say that M.R.T. put forth ideas that were real and very much relatable to for the Singaporean Indian woman.
No Singaporean in her right mind likes having to deal with an MRT breakdown. But this was a breakdown I wouldn’t mind experiencing all over again. From start to end, M.R.T. offers its predominantly female audience 100% entertainment. Be it the explicit humour or the emotional and thought provoking moments, this is an intelligent play written and directed by Sashirekka Rountan. In an interview with ChutneySG, she had mentioned that this was a project 8 years in the making.
I could see why M.R.T. had been in the pipeline for that long at the end of the production. From the set to the choice of cast, every detail has been meticulously decided on. The doors of the cabin, the “next stop” announcements and the Reserved Seating signs all contribute to the realism of the play. And appropriately enough, Mangai (Nithiyia Rao) who sports an anytime-now baby bump is seated on the reserved seat. The other commuters?
Easily flustered medical undergraduate, Deepika (Meshanthe Manickam), South Indian expatriate housewife Elizabeth (Dhivyah Raveen), teacher Amreet (Sajini Naidu) who masks her pain with a strong facade, and the aged ultimate victim of patriarchy, Kanimozhi (Prasakthi Allagoo). Though the five women are from various walks of life and are at different stages of their lives, they find themselves being able to relate to and sympathise with one another as M.R.T. progresses – simply because they are all women.
The first instance of friction is between Amreet and Elizabeth. From the get-go, it’s easy to see why Amreet despises Elizabeth. She has married a rich man who probably commands a five figure salary, has a domestic helper and crows about her pashmina scarf. I’d think she probably picked it out from her walk-in wardrobe in her swanky condominium. Amreet on the other hand leads the life of a Singaporean teacher who depends on a monthly salary – possibly overworked and underpaid. I must say that it’s rather gutsy of the scriptwriter to address the sensitive issue of Singaporeans who view foreigners as job stealers who infiltrate our country.
The elderly Kanimozhi is of course there to help point out the differences between yesteryear Indian women and millennial women today. Though she makes the audience burst into peals of laughter every time she starts with, “எங்க காலத்துலே எல்லாம்…”, she provides a serious talking point. The women of her era impose their beliefs on us simply because they were brought up to think that it’s the only respectable way to live. These are women who never thought that they could fight the patriarchal system. They never thought to question their parents’ choice of husband for them, married, gave birth to children and carried out their “rightful” domestic duties. Kanimozhi invites the audience to ponder on this without actually outrightly complaining about it. Brilliant scriptwriting by Sashirekka.
My favourite character was Amreet. Not only because she puts on a strong facade while harbouring pain (which many of us women are guilty of), but the character is also played by Sajini Naidu. During snippets of flashbacks, the television and stage actress effortlessly transitions from one character to another. One minute she’s the blunt Amreet and the next she’s an elderly Chinese aunty at her workplace. Amreet is also the one who keeps the rest of the ladies in check when there’s a possible cause for alarm.
And then there’s Mangai. She’s expecting a baby but she isn’t married – and we all know that’s enough to raise eyebrows and set tongues wagging at alarming rates in our community. If that’s not bad enough, her domestic partner is Brian, a New Zealander. Although she has defied every societal norm in the books, Mangai is portrayed as the subject of envy of most women.
Her live-in relationship with Brian leaves little to be desired; he heads out at 3am to satisfy her pregnancy craving for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and doesn’t flip when he returns to find her already fast asleep. What more could a woman want, right? Though desirable to watch some of our profound fantasies unfold on stage, I’m sure the audience was aware that acceptance of such taboo practices within our Indian community is still light years away.
The young note-taking Deepika represents the hopeful millennial women who have formed certain expectations of love and modern relationships. It’s interesting to note that Deepika’s perception of love differs vastly from that of the other women. Time has definitely played a part in transforming women’s thoughts, desires and ambitions. Having said that, it was only appropriate that the play concluded with Mangai giving birth to a baby girl in the cabin. What will her generation hold for herself and her female counterparts? Only time will tell.
Till then, we hope that 2Tango Dazzle continues to churn out more of such female-centred productions, because M.R.T. was one memorable breakdown. This editor has got her fingers crossed for a sequel in the near future.