On August 15, 2018, I attended playwright and actor Munish Sharma's reading of his one-person play Chivalry is Dead at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey. This event was part of the annual Monsoon Festival. At first, listening to Sharma share all his complex array of ideas, thoughts, and feelings about his emotional journey into manhood felt like being caught up in a storm. However, the shock of an Indian man talking so candidly about human love and sexuality quickly wore off with laughter. Then, it was refreshing to see Sharma come at this taboo topic in Indian culture straight from the heart.
Sharma explained that the reading is an early draft of the script and asked us to forgive him if the writing sounds a bit raw. And to keep in mind that the essential elements of music and dance are missing. Although director Gavan Cheema guided the reading by providing context, it was at times still a bit confusing. In my opinion, the monologue is ripe, and when performed as a dance party show these clouds should clear.
Dancing has always been a huge part of Sharma's life. "Dancing as a kid, I felt closest to God," says Sharma. He tells us that the outskirts of a dance floor are where he feels most alive because there is so much more space, and no one pays attention to you. However, he loves a jammed dance floor as long as he is dancing away in the corner. Then he poignantly wonders, "Am I dancing my life away?"
Sharma uses comedy in his insightful hip-hop song-poems to mark milestones in his life as he reflects on how he navigated his way between cultures to adulthood. In the first track, "I am a King" he spends his childhood days in "secret despair" expecting everything. As a teenager, he performs Bollywood dances on a blood orange carpet in his living room with the paneled wall serving as his audience. Then we see him as an overweight 15-year-old shoulder grooving in his first slow dance with a girl:
"She use to call me peaches, cuz I would make her cream. God Damn she had a body and her walk was really mean.
She use to call me Peaches, cuz I would make her Cream. But I hungered for her body…now a King has a Queen."
Next, he is a 23-year-old university student dancing with a "rainbow" of women tasting different "flavors." Friends advise him that picking up women is just a numbers "game." Dating he finds more challenging but well worth the effort because "She is made up of stuff that makes life up."
For Sharma, "Dancing is like sex" but "Porn kills your imagination because it does not depict what sex really is." To illustrate, Sharma sways his body from side to side like a dick encountering a vagina which made the audience roar with laughter. Next, he shares titillating stories of intricate courtship rituals of exotic birds of paradise, lionesses, and even lazy sloths – showing how seriously these creatures (unlike us) take their "quest" to mate.
Bollywood movies connect Indians living in the diaspora to their ancestral culture. Sharma jokes that from Bollywood he learned he could "sing and dance his way out of anything." If Michael Jackson taught Sharma to dance, it was Amitabh Bachchan who taught him how to use his looks and smiles to flirt with the girls while he danced. Bollywood movies informed 17-year-old Sharma about life and addicted him to romance for life. Sharma astutely observes that: "Bollywood doesn't teach you how to love" but makes you have "dreams of love."
As an adult, we see him living in a basement suite lying in a sleeping bag eating pizza bundles hooked on watching Bollywood movies that make him reminisce about his parents. Again, he chants, "Am I dancing my life away in the corner?" And then wonders if dance is helping him find his rhythm? Sharma says he doesn't understand people who confess that they do not dance at all because "we are made of particles that dance around" and "dance is born form us."
At the end, Sharma requested audience feedback to help him workshop his play which led to an interesting discussion. There is a staged reading planned next year. I look forward to seeing the final incarnation of this wildly funny play on stage at the Monsoon Festival in 2020.