Theatre review: Disco Sheela and Other Indian Superwomen a hilarious play because every word is true

Writer-actress Sharul Channa, who will be playing various female characters in her one-woman show Disco Sheela And Other Indian Superwomen.
Writer-actress Sharul Channa, who will be playing various female characters in her one-woman show Disco Sheela And Other Indian Superwomen.PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

Disco Sheela And Other Indian Superwomen Sharul Channa Esplanade Recital Studio/ Last Saturday

SINGAPORE - What do women want? Singaporean performer Sharul Channa hushes the audience for a few seconds before answering her own question: Peace and quiet.

And, yes, a few other things, such as respect, equal pay and possibly therapy, notes the performer in her rip-roaring one-woman show.

Disco Sheela And Other Indian Superwomen leaves listeners breathless with laughter, and in the next moment, unable to breathe because the truth hurts.

Channa plays four different but familiar women. Malini, Mumtaz, Aunty Sunita and Disco Sheela could be the girl next-door, the stay-at-home mum or any one of the viewers packing the Esplanade Recital Studio during two shows last Saturday.

Malini wants to rejoin the workforce after years of raising a family. But no employer agrees with her that managing two children and a husband shows that she is good at multi-tasking.

Aunty Sunita cannot cope with her "modern" daughter-in-law and misses her late husband, who she considers a "good man" having only beat her a couple of times.

Mumtaz loves to dance but has shamed her old-fashioned father with her poor grades.

And then there is Disco Sheela, the star, a divorcee now remarried and at peace with herself. See her at the temple on Tuesdays and at a club after hours, dancing away without a care in the world. So what if her uncles mutter? Her husband and child just want her to be happy.

Directed by the well-known comedian Kumar and written and performed by Channa, Disco Sheela And Other Indian Superwomen is a stand-out commission for the Esplanade's Kalaa Utsavam: Indian Festival of Arts. The performance is funny because every single word is true.

As Channa points out through the persona of Disco Sheela, women - not just in the Indian community, but in every Asian community - are expected to manage a household, have children, keep community traditions alive and have a separate career. Drop a single ball and tongues wag while heads nod in disappointment.

Disco Sheela does not care what people think but Mumtaz knows her father does. Aunty Sunita is happy with herself, if a bit lonely, but the rich Malini is dissatisfied and wants more out of life. All are complex characters yet easy to understand and empathise with.

Channa switches accents, clothes and mannerisms smoothly, aided in each transition by music from flautist Raghavendran Rajasekaran. Her observations are spot-on, skewering the Indian community's love of "keeping face" versus addressing real problems at home.

All that is missing is a fifth character to wrap things up and unite the four narratives into one whole. That aside, this is a superb performance from one woman reminding everyone to give women a break, and also reminding women to let down their hair every now and then.