Written By: Akriti Anand
“Vulgarity is contextual”. Not everything in this world in pre-defined. Alter the context, and perceive the thing anew.
It takes a heart and a lot more to dance at gatherings, predominated by lewd comments. It asks for courage to portray oneself differently, when there is a reality hidden as two cups of foam under the blouse. With a round red dot between the eyebrows, jewelry defining the nose, neck , wrists and ankles, flowers decorating an artificial bun on head and a saree wrapped around the body, the males performing the famous Launda Naach is a direct challenge to the gender politics that forms the “core of humanity”. It is an amalgamation of song, dance, comedy and theatre where men impersonate as females and effortlessly stage their folk art with commendable elegance. “Each performance is a mirror of the region’s caste and gender relations that shape who gets to be seen as an artist, and indeed, what is considered art”-HT.
Bidesia or Launda Naach is a 250 year old tradition in the district of Chappra and Arrah in Bihar, which is performed at gatherings such as, weddings and birthdays. Such like performances at the occasion of ecstasy might instigate people to perceive it an obscene showcase of sexuality; however, the involvement of these acts at funerals, too, justifies it as a non-obscene form of art. Had it been vulgar, it would not have been accepted by the community as a culture, states a Research scholar from JNU’s Art and Aesthetics department. Launda Naach was never perceived to be vulgar, until now, when it known widely and misconstrued by many. The males who impersonate as females are the ones who belong to the lower caste hierarchy of the area and are in need to collect bread and butter most of the time. They follow this culture of “Naach” as their profession which helps them to welcome a sustainable livelihood.
Many find it difficult to relate the word “Bidesia” to the unsophisticated utterance of “Launda”. “Launda” is a one word description of a man who is immature, vulgar and unworthy of any kind of respect, and above all belongs to the inferior section of the society. As the art form was gaining popularity nation-wide, he word did not match the sensibility of the Upper caste, as was considered a “gaali”. Thus, it was renamed as “Bidesia”, which was one of the plays written by the prominent playwright and folk artist, Bhikhari Thakur. The plot of the play revolved around a man who had left his home in Bihar and moved to a larger city in a search for a better livelihood. The success of this play and the playwright, along with the rising popularity of the dance form, eventually inspired the upper middle class to refer “Launda Naach” as “Bidesia”( someone who is alienated or belong to some other place).
Pondering over the word “Bidesia” and then relating it to “Launda Naach” can have several implications. “Bidesia” refers to someone, who is a migrant or is an alien to a new place. The name, therefore appropriately justifies the traits of the dancers. The performers majorly belong to the weaker lot as sectioned by the caste system which treats the inferiors as the out-casters in the society. Another implication lies in the fact that the male, too is alien to a woman’s body, yet he dresses up as female and tries to dissolve himself in the character as every out-lander tries to fit in to the place which is unknown to him.
In the nineteenth century India, when women were discouraged for making public appearances and to practice theatre, men from weaker section of society played their roles. Ramchandra Manjhi is a famous Launda Naach artist who had performed as a “Rakhail” in Thakur’s Bidesia, while his friend Lakhichnad played the role of wife of the protagonist. At night they acted flawlessly and later with the fall of the sun rays, they led a daily life of a husband, father and a grandfather. They had a marked distinguishing line between their personal and professional lives. As per a researcher, the “Naach” is patronized and thus, could not evolve as a “mainstream currency”. There is a stigma being attached to it as it lacks the involvement of women and at the same time display impersonations by the male actors as females. With the dire patriarchy, gender politics and caste bias layered in, it will be not at all astonishing to comprehend the cases of sexual abuses in this field too. Many of the transgender and male actor who stepped forward, whether to follow their heart which adores dancing, or to fill their empty stomachs, were not far from the abuses. They heard lewd comments and even were sexually harassed while performing this folk art. Obscene remarks often met their way while doing continuous swirls. “Dance tradition is offered by god”, is a statement in the movie trailer of “Naach Bhikhari Naach”, however, this tradition has not failed to invite streaks of criticism in its wallet. This source of attack on patriarchy, gender and caste issues is still fighting its battles to gain recognition; if not recognition, at least a respectable status in this ailing society, so as to keep the culture alive.
About the Author-Akriti Anand is a trainee journalist at India Today Media Institute.
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