New venue showcasing Nepali society, literature and art
When a woman carries herself around in the streets or even at her workplace or her home, she is constantly hounded by the anxiety of protecting herself. The fear for safety has been heightened with the series of cases of rape reported over the years, not to mention impunity of the assailants.
Actors’ Studio’s performance of Rapemachine offered a final sobering note at Fine Print Fever Literature Festival at the Unnati Cultural Village last week.
Directed by Suraj Malla, the play is stirred by the rape and murder of Nirmala Panta. It begins with three women in white kurta onstage, gazing silently outward. Suddenly, three men appear from the audience, stalk through the crowd, and shine flashlights at their faces.
The women begin a movement sequence representing youth, learning, and beauty, presenting a repeat of their innocence, over and over. Ranjana Bhattarai plays hopscotch, Hena Nagarkoti practices her alphabet, while Anu Dahal admires herself in a mirror.
The men join the sequence, bringing actions of machinery, brute force, and vice: Suraj Malla operates a large vehicle. Pranav KC digs piles of dirt, and Aashish Shrestha blows cigarette smoke at the audience. This codified mirror of society recycles itself until someone discovers an abandoned shoe – evidence of an assault.
The individual characters become a village chorus and shout in unison: “छोटो छोटो लुगा लाएपछि यस्तै हुन्छ, यस्तै हुन्छ”, this is what happens when you wear short skirts. Accusations abound, but mirroring a real society, everyone returns to their individual cyclical actions— we protest, investigate, and accuse, then we return to ‘normal’.
Rapemachine pushes this idea further. When the performers settle into their repetitive actions, another piece of clothing is found. Another. And another. Each time, the onstage society reacts with accusations, and each time they attempt to return to normal.
The repetitive actions lull the audience into uncomfortable resignation: What can be done when the cycle seems bound to repeat itself indefinitely?
Rather than offer solutions, Rapemachine emphasises that lack of action leads to continued devolvement. The male characters become a team of senseless monsters, cleverly staging violence that represents rape and murder to the audience.
Effective use of items like tika vermillion powder, lollipops, and confetti, create a sense of affinity and loss we experience when reading about Nirmala’s case. Although it is clearly symbolic, watching the violence unfold leaves the audience in pin-drop, the silence speaking volumes about the impact.
What the performance lacks in solutions, it makes up for in conversation opportunities. The performers’ intensity and vulnerability – particularly the women’s – leaves the audience in shock, stirring them towards dialogue. With sexual violence and victim-blaming in every corner of our world, these artistic conversations continue to be necessary.
The Fine Print Fever Literature Festival was held at the Unnati Cultural Village on 12-13 March in Nawalparasi. The event, hosted by the Chaudhary Group stirred conversations around Nepal’s culture and art.
The FinePrint Fever Festival also featured conversations around books, with Amar Neupane, Asim Sagar, and political conversations with the likes of Gagan Thapa, Rabindra Mishra. Actors Rajesh Hamal and Manisha Koirala were crowd pullers, with Koirala discussing Jijibisa, a translation of her book Healed, which maps her life’s journey as she batted and beat cancer.
The authors gave well-attended talks about their work and relevant life experiences. The event also provided space for conversation with Niranjan Kunwar of Between Queens and the Cities, fame, a frank discussion of LGBTQ+ experiences, a pressing but under-discussed current issue.
Unnati Cultural Village is a Chaudhary Foundation initiative, which has been captioned as ‘the prospect of the multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and diverse geography of Nepal’. The venue is a resort-cum-art center, featuring low-hanging mango trees and meandering footpaths.
The design, inspired by Tharu architecture, motifs, and sketches, crafted by the expert hands of local Tharu artisans Nanu Maya Mahato, Khem Kumari Mahato, Sundar Kumari Chaudhary and Durga Mahato. Ceramicist, Gopal Kalapremi, also provided training to local artists under a community initiative at the centre.
The venue is also home to a Craft Museum and an artifact museum called Sampada Art Gallery, featuring contemporary Nepali artists, Rangmanch Amphitheatre, an open-air performance space and Atelier, artist studio spaces.
Anusuya Gurung, one of the curators of the craft museum describes the centre as an educational opportunity to showcase the historical evolution of Nepal through craft and artisans. The museum begins with mythological references, and the times when craft existed as utility for agriculture, weaponry and ritual.
It then moves into the medieval age, when craft transitions into art and architecture, with evidence of new materials like stone and metal. The third section shows modern and contemporary artifacts, and like the present time, is a ‘living work-in-progress’ with contemporary art pieces from pioneers in their artistry.