'Real change begins from within'

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 06/02/2014
Padma Akula
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BRINGING CHANGE: Mumbai Monologues co-director Padma Akula

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For Auckland's growing Indian population, the pride festival comes with uneasy reflections on what is happening in their homeland.

India's Supreme Court ruled in December that homosexuality was a criminal offence, startling a nation that thought it was becoming liberal.

As the decision came down a group of Aucklanders were putting together Mumbai Monologues, a theatrical celebration of cultural and sexual diversity.

Co-director Padma Akula said the group wanted the play, which runs from February 12 to 16, to include something on the Indian ruling.

It is known as Section 377 after its Criminal Code listing.

"We felt it was very important to express the real consequences of this section," Akula said, saying it affected all people.

"Out of the eight monologues in Mumbai Monologues, this piece is close to my heart."

The play, also directed by Ahi Karunaharan, tells a series of stories, from the cut-throat world of Mumbai where people struggle to get the best jobs, to the single and lonely and a monologue from a woman riding on a "Mumbai local" - the famous trains.

"It's about stories of everyday people, with everyday worries but we don't often hear about these stories; especially the ones with sexual diversity," Akula said.

Asked if the play would have worked outside the Pride festival, she said it had to be part of it to be able to deal with gay issues.

"Like it or not, Indians use tradition/culture as their trump card and choose not to tackle sensitive issues head-on," she said.

"It would have been a mission to coax Indians to support our not so conventional topic."

Akula said the group was not campaigning.

"We are just storytellers; and we want to tell compelling stories. What the audience choose to feel and do with the stories is their choice.

"Real change begins from within, it begins from being awake and becoming awake begins with a slight hint of wonder. We wish to throw little perspective and make our audience wonder."

The play is sponsored by the AIDS Foundation LYC (Love Your Condom) programme.

Spokesman Joe Rich said the programme was excited to be involved.

The number of South Asian men living in Auckland who identified as gay or bisexual had been growing steadily over the last decade.

"As our community becomes increasingly diverse we need to ensure that our work to promote a condom culture is relevant and engaging to these guys," Rich said.

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"We're currently doing some research on South Asian gay and bisexual men to better understand how factors such as family, culture and identity influence attitudes toward sex and condom use."

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