Pooja Ruparel in Eve Ensler's new playMUMBAI, India (WOMENSENEWS)–In her new play "I am an Emotional Creature: ,"The Secret Lives of Girls," which had its world premiere here on Nov. 12, playwright and activist Eve Ensler provides a global stage for the oppression faced by girls worldwide.

Along with monologues by one U.S. girl coping with peer pressure and another suffering anorexia, there is an Israeli girl who refuses the draft; a Kenyan girl who escapes genital mutilation; and a Chinese girl who makes Barbies in a factory.

Another story in the play, which was performed in the 1,000-seat Tata Theatre, focuses on an Iranian girl who is forced into plastic surgery. It uses black humor to criticize the pressure on girls to be pretty.

In the play’s most poignant monologue, a survivor of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo introduces her "Guide to Surviving Sex Slavery." (Rule 1: Get over that girl thing that this can’t be happening to me. Rule 2: Don’t look at him when he is raping you. Rule 3: Don’t call him by his name. Say "Hey you." Or "Move over.")

In the monologue "My Short Skirt," three girls in short skirts sassily denounce men who think they are "asking for it."

"My Short Skirt" drew loud applause from the crowd of mostly women and men in their 30s and 40s. It was a full house, as the play received much national press in advance.

Mixed Reviews

Some of the young members of the audience were harsh critics of the play, which won’t run again until the release of Ensler’s book of the same title in February 2010.

"I thought the play was too preachy," said Priyal Shah, a college student.

"It wasn’t hard-hitting, just repetitive," said Manisha Dutt, a banker and mother in her 30s. "I didn’t feel anything for any of the characters. Anguish just comes across better when it’s not over the top."

The play got mixed reviews in the press. The Hindustan Times, a national newspaper, gave it a negative review saying, "The play attempts to make a point, but gets nowhere. The stories fail to touch your heart, functioning only as evidence of some sort. Shocking is confused with moving." However, the Web site idiva.com, which is run by a national newspaper group, said "This play is a must-watch, and not just for the girls."

Some audience members also gave the play their support.

"In Mumbai, we have become so immune to violence against women that we just ignore it," said Vinita Kamath, an audience member in her 30s. "We need to be aware of what’s happening around us, not just in Mumbai but also in the Congo or Palestine."

"The monologue set in Mumbai was especially real", said Sunila Pethe of a monologue in which two Muslim girls talk about the restrictions on their lives. "Men everywhere in India have the final word, but it’s especially so in the Muslim community."

"Perhaps it is a rant," said Kaizaad Kotwal, co-director of the play and co-founder of Poorbox Productions, the Indian theater company that staged the play. "But it’s about time we ranted. Six million people are dead in the Congo, tens of thousands brutally raped, and no one in India knows about it because our media only focuses on Bollywood stars. Things have gone too far for subtlety and diplomacy. I say: shout louder!"

More Women Than Any Country

At the premiere, Ensler, 56, who lives in New York City, praised the multiculturalism of India. "I decided to premiere this play in India partly because India has more women than any other country," she said. "I hope this play helps Indian women to be strong and learn how to say no."

Currently, Ensler is campaigning against the rapes occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a U.N report estimated that 200,000 women have been raped in the last decade.

Over the past 10 years, Ensler’s charity, V-Day, says it has raised more than $70 million for projects that stop violence against women.

"The Vagina Monologues," Ensler’s groundbreaking play first performed in 1996, has been very successful in India, where it has been staged by Poorbox Productions for over five years. It has been translated into Hindi and local languages. Proceeds from the play have gone to local projects that help women affected by violence.

"We need to look at this play not just as a literary work, but as something that might change people’s lives, as ‘The ‘Vagina Monologues’ did," said Kotwal.

At the Bangalore show, Ensler encountered a protest outside the theater by around 10 people from a male support organization; they said the play was anti-male.

In Mumbai, half the audience were men.

"In India, most women don’t have a voice," said Anant Pethe, a male viewer. "This is a fantastic play because we Indians never talk about things that happen all around us, such as forced marriages and feticide. I don’t think it’s anti-male at all."

Pethe said the new play might have another, unexpected effect. "Women have feelings too," he said. "I think this play will help men understand that."

Kavitha Rao is a Mumbai-based journalist who writes about current affairs, culture and the arts. Her website is at www.kavitharao.net

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