There isn’t much that can be said about Manwatching. Mainly because its author is anonymous, and the script has been kept under tight wraps ever since it was commissioned by The Royal Court Theatre in 2017. Nevertheless, the impromptu comic monologue has been performed by dozens of men around London, as well as at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And now, five of them will be performing it in Chennai as well.
The appeal of this performance piece is quite clear. Bhargav Ramakrishnan, who is bringing the act to Chennai through his comedy club The Spotted Hyena, explains, “It has been written by a female playwright who has chosen to remain anonymous. It is a mandate that it must be performed only by a male comedian, who is given the script only after he takes the stage.”
In a way, this makes the performance more difficult than even improv, since it has to be spontaneous but not completely of the performer’s own invention. The challenge further is that the entire monologue is about sex from a woman’s perspective, something a man cannot find immediately relatable. This makes it as much of a surprise to the audience, as it is to the performer himself.
Bhargav recalls having watched the performance in Edinburgh with his friends, four of whom were women — “When I watched it, it threw us off. And it definitely throws the performer off: he discovers those words as the same time we do… It is definitely socio-political, because it keeps comparing what would happen to a man in a similar situation. It is very candid in its discussion of the experience, and what its takeaway was, what her learning of the partner or the man was. That perspective is really interesting… I remember having detailed conversations with my women friends after the show.”
There are lessons in the show as much as there is humour, claims Bhargav. “Most men are not used to discussing the female perspective on sexuality or desire with such candidness. Even for a woman, it would be a refreshing experience to see it talked about so openly,” he says, “It has clearly been written from personal experience, about the playwright’s own sexual fantasies and experiences, and she has been very candid about it. But it is also intelligently written, keeping in mind that these lines are going to be read out by a man…”
The decision to stage it in Chennai, however, was not a spontaneous one; Bhargav requested city-based performers Naveen Richard and Mathivanan Rajendran to do test readings to closed audiences of about 10 people, before entering into the play’s licence negotiations. It was interesting, he says, to see how each comedian took a different approach to it and found their own way to alleviate the pressure of an impromptu performance with heavy material. Needless to say, however, those actors will not feature in the final, open line-up, since they have already been exposed to the script.
In Chennai, Manwatching will be performed every Sunday, by a different comedian. The line-up includes Azeem Banatwalla, Sahil Shah, Jimmy Xavier, Karthik Kumar and Kunal Rao, on November 24 and December 1, 8, 15 and 22 respectively. “We wish to do five more shows in January and are in talks with Daniel Fernandes, Kenny Sebastian, Rahul Subramanian and some other comics to perform the show,” adds Bhargav.
But is there an appeal beyond the difficulty of performance, the shock value and the wit? Bhargav seems to think so. “It is the kind of show that instigates conversation. And this is one of the conversations that we should be having right now,” he concludes.
The first edition of Manwatching will be performed on November 24 at 4 pm at The Spotted Hyena in Club Crest, Phoenix MarketCity. Passes are available on www.bookmyshow.com