Review: Vibrant Storytelling in ‘HONOUR: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan’

Teesri Duniya presents Quebec Premiere of Dipti Mehta's solo play on human trafficking

(Photo Credit: Alex Waterhouse Hayward)

Teesri Duniya Theatre presents the Quebec premiere of the award-winning, internationally touring production HONOUR: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan. This colourful, musical experience of Mumbai’s red light district will reel you in with mystic sensuality, raw humanity, and refined storytelling.

This multilayered story addresses the interweaving of sex trafficking, sexism, religion, motherhood, and survival. It specifically highlights the capitalization of young women’s bodies; the social hierarchies based on a woman’s sexual or marital status; the gendered violence and manipulation which permeates the sex market; and the act of bartering for one’s fate. The story is set against the Hindu legend of Draupedi, poignantly connecting the action in the brothel to ancient cultural beliefs around love, marriage, sex, gender, and honour. In a religion where polygamy carries its own prejudices, these characters reveal the complex pressures and expectations internalized by women worldwide. 

(Photo Credit: Kyle Rosenberg)

Drawing on her childhood in Mumbai, playwright and solo performer Dipti Mehta has crafted a script which humanizes victims of sex-trafficking, both across the globe and at home. Keenly aware of cultural differences and language barriers between the setting and the Canadian audience, Mehta uses these devices to her advantage. Addressing the audience as voyeuristic tourists, her characters teach us the language and provide background information, while also challenging our voyeurism and calling out the hypocrisy of privileged white Americans. The script is full of punchy poetic lines, and doesn’t shy away from poignant generalizations (about men, women, Americans) that speak to cultural perceptions and values. With director Mark Cirnigliaro, Mehta takes care to establish a vocabulary of language and movement, with which she then delivers resounding truths.

Mehta’s performance is a pinnacle of precision in movement, character transitions, and eye contact. Monica Kapoor’s choreography combines Bollywood, classical Indian dance, pantomime, and interpretive gestures. Mehta embodies seven characters with distinct physicalities, and transitions between them with applaudable precision and fluidity. Mehta’s performative presence is further heightened by her unflinching eye contact, both inviting and confrontational. 

(Photo Credit: Alex Waterhouse Hayward)

Every aspect of the design is as carefully polished as the golden figurine of Ganesha that oversees the action. Sheer panels of exquisitely pigmented fabrics pick up the theatre lights’ vibrant colours. One’s vision weaves through the spaces between and behind these spectral panels. Over the course of the story, these layers are peeled back, deflated, and the decoration falls away to reveal the hardest of truths. 

Although Mehta plays characters of various genders, her costume is decidedly feminine. While audiences’ imaginations can override this costume when she embodies male characters, they can never forget the centrality of the female characters—their bodies, their perspectives, or their social positions. Her costume also spotlights a culturally specific image of femininity, wearing her traditional ghungroos like shackles. 

Teesri Duniya Theatre and Montréal, arts interculturels (MAI) are continuously committed to fostering cross-cultural dialogue, and this production is no exception. Through the political act of humanization and cultural specificity, Teesri Duniya draws attention to the staggering statistics of sex trafficking today and the universality of the issue. Audiences are encouraged to bring cash to donate or to buy handmade crafts from sex-trafficking survivors. 

Teesri Duniya Theatre presents
Honour: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan
October 3 – 6 at the MAI (3680, rue Jeanne-Mance)
Tickets ($20 – 28):

Celine Cardineau

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