Cross-dressing has found its safest shelter in theatre, across time and space, often forcing audiences to interrogate gender stereotypes. So when two recent productions flaunted it, we applauded their gusto, but when they didn’t think things through, we moaned the lost opportunities.

From Mumbai, Patchworks Ensemble’s Gentlemen’s Club AKA Tape imagines a city where women performers have the freedom to impersonate male celebrity entertainers. Collectively devised by Vikram Phukan and the five actresses, it deviates innovatively from the more familiar female impersonation. But by proclaiming the “celebration of masculinity through femininity”, they commit a gross faux pas: do we need any more glorifications of macho men? Must we persist with gender binaries? And by projecting it in the mainstream yet referring to it as a subculture, they confuse their concept. Having said all that, each of the drag kings creates a brilliant act, from Shammi Kapoor to Justin Timberlake. Two stand out: Ratnabali Bhattacharjee sings and dances “My Ding-a-ling” to discomfit viewers with the perfect double-entendre swag patented by Chuck Berry, and Puja Sarup candidly demonstrates how to bind the chest in a poignant backstage revelation.

Jadavpur Manthan pursue their interest in unusual subjects on Ardhek Ākāsh (the title of a drama by Chokh that writer Anik Ghosh could have avoided). A gay couple break up when one of them, a Bengali theatre director, proposes to a new actress, yet asks his former partner to continue their relationship because he (what a cad!) truly loves him. This situation replicates his play about the mythology and history of female impersonation inevitably replaced by female actors. While director Rajib Bardhan may feel sorry about its demise, he must realize the unfairness that women still don’t get as many roles as men. The parallel plots are too schematic to convince, though the confident acting by so many young men in drag is impressive. Bardhan must cut the choreographed prelude by half, for I thought I had walked into a dance-drama by mistake – it went on that long, before the real story began. Chapal Bhaduri makes a fleeting appearance, sadly a shadow of his old self.

(From The Telegraph, 11 November 2017)