Biryani Durbar, recently staged in Bengaluru shows how roles reverse when opportunity presents itself

“Knock on a stranger’s door and ask for food. What you receive depends on who you are and who opens the door. If you knock on the door of a trans person’s home, however, you will never be turned away because they have faced hunger pangs and the humiliation of rejection all their lives,” says Srijith Sundaram, an activist for the LGBT community in Chennai.

His play Biryani Durbar, recently staged in Bengaluru, depicts the life of trans people with all its harsh realities. The protagonist Nooramma is portrayed by activist A Revathi. Srijith, who has been working with the community for the past 15 years believes, ‘Art is a weapon’ to battle ignorance, prejudice and hate.

The idea for this play had been germinating with Srijith over the past few years. “During the second wave, I helped with the running of the Trans Community Kitchen in Chennai and saw a transformation in how the community was perceived — from being the ones who begged for food to becoming providers.”

A team of 20-plus volunteers — entreprenuers, activists, dancers, farmers, singers, models — help run the kitchen founded by Sankari G, Sowndharya Gopi and Srijith Sundaram. It operated from two locations: Porur and the Tsunami Quarters in Ernavur, apart from smaller kitchens in New Washermanpet and Tondiarpet.

Their aim was to provide food for those in need as well as those home-bound due to COVID-19. As the lockdown eased, the team utilised their infrastructure to provide medical support and to help vendors and small entrepreneurs get back on their feet. Apart from organising and distributing food to migrant workers, hospital staff and ambulance drivers, members of the Trans Community Kitchen also began attending funerals of COVIDd-19 victims who were alone on their final journey.

While scripting the play, Srijith wove in real-life incidents and experiences of the trans community, most notably the murder of Sangeetha who ran a trans kitchen in Coimbatore, and the ironic reality of trans people caring for their aged parents who had initially abandoned them.

“I worked on dozens of interviews and interactions to weave makethem into a script. Incidents about this community rarely make it to the news and I wanted to bring them to light,” says Srijith, adding that a lot of thought went into sourcing the props. “Every single item on stage — be it a mat, picture frame, item of clothing or utensil — has been used in the homes of trans people. I invested a lot of time in choosing these props as they are a mute testament to their plight, and depict their domestic lives most accurately.”

Srijith says he was supported by his mentor, A Mangai, and Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna whose music is featured in Biryani Durbar. “I was doubtful if A. Revathi would agree to perform in my play, considering she had already portrayed her life story on stage.”

However, Revathi Amma, as she is popularly known, had no such qualms. “When I first saw my autobiography being enacted on stage in 2014, I realised it is a great tool to bring about awareness and in 2015, I played myself on stage. So when Srijith approached me with his script, I was thrilled to give it a try,” says the activist who hails from Namakkal in Tamil Nadu.

“The only thing I was nervous about was how the biryani which was being prepared on stage, would turn out,” she chuckles, adding, “It was an experience in itself. This play was a chance to depict someone else’s story and now I am confident I can play more roles.”

Srijith hopes to stage Biryani Durbar at the upcoming Chennai Pride and have a re-run in Bengaluru in the next two months.

Trans Community Kitchen: Rising to the occasion

– A team of twenty-plus volunteers from different vocations — entreprenuers, activists, dancers, farmers, singers, models — help run the Trans Community Kitchen which was founded by Sankari G, Sowndharya Gopi and Srijith Sundaram

– The Kitchen operated from two locations: Porur and the Tsunami Quarters in Ernavur, apart from four small kitchens in New Washermanpet, Tondiarpet

– Their aim was to provide food for those in need as well as those home-bound due to COVID-19

– Volunteers pitched in with the cooking, distributing and organising of resources which were freewill donations

– As the lockdown eased, the team utilised their infrastructure to provide medical support for those in need and to help vendors and small entrepreneurs get back on their feet

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