Bharatanatyam in the Wild

“For the first few months after its inception, BitW led a sequestered life. All of our early videos were filmed either in our college or in Swathi’s colony. It was only after we took it outside of these relatively protected spaces, that it became political. When we started taking it to public spaces, it wasn’t just about the dance anymore. Every time we dance and film in a public space, we are making our presence felt. Normally, so many women go about their time in the city just thankful that they are not harassed, that they manage to get from point A to B safely. And as discreet and efficient as we may try to be in our operation, there is nothing discreet about dancing in a public space.”

“Delhi, especially, is not a safe city to live in for women. Even as we — female dancers and filmmakers — take our art outdoors into the urban jungle, we are always conscious of the predators that are on the city streets. The male gaze is no harmless thing in India, but polices women and implicitly threatens them. We try to make ourselves small and invisible, occupying as little space as possible.

With BitW, we have begun to do the exact opposite. We are claiming for our bodies the right to take up space. We are asserting to the city, but most significantly, to ourselves, that these are our streets too. We are teaching ourselves to meet the public gaze, and in being unembarrassed, we are challenging its assumptions as well. We have grown in courage and confidence along with this project, and although we still have a long way to go (night videos, for example, will forever be a tricky business), we stand for the normalization of the confident, unafraid woman and her right to assert ownership over the streets of her city that is, after all, hers.

Dancing is certainly a confident flaunting of the body, whereas hiding away and shaming the body is how patriarchy polices women. In a public performance, one cannot control one’s audience, as would happen by default in an auditorium. Our choosing to perform publicly as women, where people of all kinds watch us, disapprovingly or otherwise, is our stating that the gaze will not police us any longer. We will not be shamed into retreating into our homes. We believe in our work passionately, and we will see it done.”

Bharatanatyam in the Wild is a project started by four artistically-similar and intellectually-opinionated friends — Priyanka Kali, Aishwarya Kali, Swathi Gangadharan and Tirna Sengupta – who are all final-year Literature students at LSR.

BitW aims to raise Bharatanatyam off of its hallowed stage, usher it out of its venerated auditoriums and shear it of its opaque glamour. Women who navigate the increasingly treacherous streets of the city with any sense of ownership, or belonging, are a threatened breed today. So are women filmmakers.

It is apparent to us then that our art is a political statement, not only in its end; that it is taking a classical dance to unconventional settings and thus, contemporising and democratising it, but also in the very process of its creation — the claiming of urban spaces and together gaining the confidence to challenge and undercut ridiculous policing. BitW was started by friends, and this female solidarity has become a focus of the documentary.

Bharatanatyam in the Wild can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo, and Youtube. Check out their official Facebook page here.

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