A wickedly funny play in which men try and fail to yoke modern, independent women to their patriarchal ideals.

Directors: Sheena Khalid, Puja Sarup
Writers: Shubhangi Swarup, Sheena Khalid, Shruti Vyas, Puja Sarup
Cast: Neha Singh, Reshma Shetty, Priyanka Sethia, Shruti Vyas, Puja Sarup, Saurabh Nayyar
Language: Hindi, English

It was a dark night…

A scene similar to one in countless Bollywood thrillers plays out on stage. It’s a dark, spooky night. A lone taxi ferries a woman across a deserted road. The driver strikes up a conversation with his passenger. They start chatting about chudails (a mythical female demonic entity), who are known to inhabit that stretch of road. The driver bravely professes that he isn’t scared of them. The passenger smirks in telling fashion. Before the driver can blink, she’s joined by two fellow chudails. The three of them kidnap the driver intending to have him for dinner.

Being a chudail is hard work

Patchworks Ensemble’s Shikaar smartly uses the mythical demon to symbolise the ideal Indian woman. She’s not the demure, dutiful creature portrayed in popular culture but a willful individual. The five chudails (Neha Singh, Reshma Shetty, Priyanka Sethia, Shruti Vyas, Puja Sarup) in the play live together in harmony, are well-educated, no-nonsense and successfully run businesses. They prey on men every fortnight, keeping rumours of their existence alive and are, therefore, feared by people.

Just as the ladies are about to dig in, the driver is saved by the bell.  The caller turns out to be JD Lal (Saurabh Nayyar) from the Samaj Raksha Evam Sudharan Sanstha. Clearly modeled on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha, this khaki shorts-wearing, oily-haired man is tasked to go door to door to train people in the art of spotting and disarming the powers of chudails. To aid him in this endeavour, he carries a copy of a book, Dekho Woh Aa Gayee, which has a list of chudail traits (they wear white sarees, have feet turned backward and long hair). He proclaims himself to be an expert on the species and believes chudails are a threat to society. But he has a solution for them. A sprinkling of ‘desh ki mitti’ and rehabilitation at a ‘sanskari’ camp will turn them into normal women.

The sanskari stree versus the modern lady

Much like Amar Kaushik’s film Stree, this one subverts the roles assigned to men and women, making men vulnerable and women feared. It’s a smart comment on the parochial mindset towards independent women, who defy labels and, as a result, become threatening to men, and a cheeky dig at majoritarian politics.

The performances are top-notch

Shruti Vyas shows terrific comic timing in her role as the chudail matriarch, Nani. So does Reshma Shetty, who plays the savvy businesswoman in the group. Manavashi, who speaks with an affected French accent (she runs a cosmetics company) and keeps the audience in splits with her histrionics. Funnily enough, it’s the man in the cast who steals the show. Saurabh Nayyar’s earnest government official blinded by prejudice is in top form, keeping everyone thoroughly engaged as he struts about unaware he’s in the company of devilish women.