I have no doubt that writer and performer Dipti Mehta’s heart is in the right place, but she’s not a great storyteller.
In her solo show, Honour: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan, Mehta introduces us to Rani, whose mother, Chameli, is a sex worker in Mumbai’s “Fuck Lane”. Rani has just turned 16 and Chameli has decided that it’s time to sell her daughter’s virginity, her “honour”. Chameli loves Rani, but she sees her decision as pragmatic: Chameli and Rani are so outcast, she reasons persuasively, that there is no way for either of them to enter mainstream society.
Mehta interweaves Rani’s story with a folktale about a spellbound princess who hopes to break a curse by finding true love. Wearing a tasselled ensemble of sheer gold and hot pink, and adorned with sparkling jewellery, Mehta sings and dances. Most impressively, she also embodies a series of clearly defined characters, including a giddy hijra (trans woman) named Meena, a corpulent john, and a hypocritical old Brahmin priest.
These portraits are by far the most successful aspect of Honour—but characterizations aren’t enough; you’ve also got to provide your audience with emotional access, and that’s where Honour falls down.
Near the end of the play’s single act, Rani informs us that she is in love with a young man named Nandu. She plans to marry him and escape the fate her mother has mapped out for him. But we never meet Nandu and we know nothing about Rani’s relationship to him, so this plot point, which comes too late to create focus and narrative tension, also lacks emotional weight.
All of that said, with Honour, Mehta is raising money for girls and women who have been exploited in the sex trade, and that is a very worthwhile thing to do.
HONOUR: CONFESSIONS OF A MUMBAI COURTESAN By Dipti Mehta. Directed by
Mark Cirnigliaro. Presented with Diwali in BC. At the Vancity Culture Lab on Saturday, October 21. Continues until November 4.
Get your tickets here.
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