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V for victory, V for Vagina

Originally published in:

By Udita Jhunjhunwala

Jane Fonda’s blue turquoise top had ‘Vertigo’ emblazoned across it in silver sequin. If only writer Eve Ensler had worn her hot pink ‘Vagina Warrior’ ski cap too.

But that’s a small omission when you have Hollywood actresses Jane Fonda and Marisa Tomei with writer of The Vagina Monologues Eve Ensler at the Taj Mahal Hotel on International Women’s Day promoting V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls.

On a travelling visit to India till March 20, the showpiece of V-Day and its activities are the special performances of Eve Ensler’s cult hit play The Vagina Monologues staged here by Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal. So coveted was the event that even Aishwarya Rai was struggling to get a ticket for last night’s show.

Speaking about their involvement with the movement and their visit to India, Marisa Tomei (seen in My Cousin Vinny and The Guru) and Jane Fonda (Barbarella, The China Syndrome) said that they were both here on Ensler’s invitation. “It is Eve’s decision where to spend International Women’s Day,” said Fonda who is on her second visit to India. “We spent it in Islamabad last year,” said Ensler.

“Mahabanoo seems to have done well with the play here and we wanted to honour the vagina warrior experience in India.”

The show in Mumbai included one fresh piece — Jadi (fat). “I interviewed these women two years ago and this piece is a part of my new work, The Good Body,” said Ensler. “I was moved by how older Indian women love their bodies. They said to me, ‘without jadi we cannot hold our saris up’.

We live in a society with images of skinny women, but I was reading the Kamasutra the other night, and there are no skinny women there. They are all voluptuous and round.”

For Marisa Tomei, though The Guru is her most recent brush with Indian settings and themes, her earlier experience was working with Mira Nair 10 years ago (My Own Country). “But this is my first visit to India and I will go see Mira's mother when I am in Delhi,” said the Oscar winning actress. Jane Fonda made her visit to India in 1968, a very different India to that of 2004. “I’m very different myself,” says Fonda. “And when you change, a place does seem different.”

All three women practice yoga, Ensler is a practising Buddhist and greatly influenced by Gandhi, and all have found an awakening of their true feminism through the Vagina Monologues — a play about women and, as the title says, that very private part of a woman’s body that men, and women, shy away from.

“Jane says that I am obsessed with the notion of living with ambiguity. Well, violence is the mechanism that destroys ambiguity.

The degree of violence to women globally is obscene — rape, murder, battery, infanticide,” said Ensler explaining the V-Day cause. “We stand in solidarity with women of India who’ve been fighting for years against violence. The V-Day movement is about empowering women and holding them sacred.”

Fonda, for her part, displayed an honesty that our Indian actresses would benefit from observing. Said the acclaimed actress, fitness guru and icon, “I am a successful, independent woman. I have been married three times and yet in each of these marriages, I would often silence my own voice. I was a feminist in my head but in my private life, I tried to please my man.”

Watching Ensler’s performance off-Broadway in New York persuaded both these actresses to become vagina warriors. “It was a personal revolution for me,” said Tomei.

“A liberation and a journey to the source of my power. I was scared of doing it at first.” Fonda too balked at the idea when she first read the play. “I’ve got enough problems of my own, I thought. But after seeing Eve’s performance I was moved from my head to my body. It changed my life and I wanted to spread the message that violence against women should not happen.”

While stage actors have embraced The Vagina Monologues performances, Bollywood has so far not stood up for it. When asked why this was, Kotwal said, “Some say they did think of doing it. Some said they’d do only some parts. But nobody from Bollywood supported us. If they had, though this would not have been the play it is.”

Ensler is more metaphorical. “We are all dining at a huge table shaped like a vagina. I just think some people have not come to dinner yet. I trust that at some point in time they’ll find themselves, and they’ll come.”

Let's wait and see how long it is before the Bollywood sisterhood feels brave enough to say V is for Vagina.