Women are universally indispensable to society and culture, yet our physical contribution is all too often taken for granted. Pratha Nagpal’s Aurat Raj is a reflection on the integral relationship between women’s work and their culture in south Asian societies.

Essentially a non-verbal movement piece, Aurat Raj is beautifully performed by Vinaya Elijala, Kirthihaa Veluppillai, Anusha Thomas and choreographer Nikki Sekar. It would be interesting to hear how individual audience members interpret the story that unfolds around the central pole of knotted fabric hanging from the ceiling. I doubt that any two of us receive the narrative exactly the same.

For me, the basic narrative revolves around a family of women working as an aesthetically well-oiled machine, performing their repetitive manual work with focus, precision and clarity. Clad in exquisite traditional costumes in various shades of creamy yellows and gold, the actors’ movement skills and expressive faces need no accompanying words to tell us how their hands hurt, their backs ache. Yet they continue, despite the physical toll it is clearly taking on them.

When the youngest rebels against the hard discipline of this traditional role, however, she is cast out. She has queried the cultural tradition. The disruptive effect of this upon the community is dramatically symbolised by the collapse of the knotted fabric, the very fabric of their society.

However, as women do, they prove receptive to re-building, to accommodating change. In around 40 minutes, Aurat Raj is emotionally engaging, enthralling and entertaining throughout. The charm of this minimalist piece is the sense of family, of community, of sisterhood that the performers evoke so convincingly; their work is deftly complemented by Hailley Hunt’s production design, Christine Pan’s sound design and Tyler Fitzpatrick’s lighting design.

Before Aurat Raj begins, writer-director Pratha Nagpal quotes from the poem by Palestinian writer and professor Refaat Alareer, killed in an Israeli airstrike on December 6, 2023 :

“If I must die, let it bring hope, Let it be a tale.”

This worthy expression of support and hope for a resolution of the Palestinian situation is pertinent to the underlying sentiment of the women’s story in Aurat Raj. “Let it bring hope. Let it tell a tale.”

Brave the rain and see this exquisitely crafted piece, playing in Belvoir’s 25A theatre until May 19.

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