Gender Bender

Nurturing any kind of gender bias is detrimental to the health of the society. On the other  hand, promoting gender equality in any sphere is a sign of an unbiased, forward-looking society. According to Kofi Annan, the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations and 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner, "Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance".

Last week Thane took yet another positive step in the direction of endorsing gender equality when city residents thronged the Gadkari Ranagaytan to attend a unique all-women’s musical orchestra. Organised by city based arts institution called "Onjal", it was first all-women orchestra to be organised in Maharshatra and the response of the audience attested to its success.

25 women from Thane participated in the orchestra that was based on memorable Marathi songs from yesteryears rendered by the two living legends of Indian Music, Lata Manageshkar and Asha Bhosle. Evergreen numbers such as "Kehva tari pahate", "Sanj ye gokuli" and many others were among the two dozen or so songs that the women performed to a packed auditorium which included celebrities such as Ramesh Deo and Ashok Hande. It was amazing to see a troupe comprising entirely of women – from the host and instrument players to singers and dancers – every one on the stage was a woman.
 
The script of the orchestra was carefully researched and before every song was performed, the host of the show (also a woman) revealed its history. While some songs were the results of accidents, others were so challenging that they took days and sometimes weeks to complete. There was also a one-act play by small girl called Bhairavi Goregaonkar.

It is said that behind every successful man is a woman. Seem like the opposite is also true – at least as far is this orchestra is concerned. So, although the stage was adorned entirely by women, the concept, direction, script and production was handled by men.   Mandar Tillu conceived and directed the show while Amish Kondra arranged the music. The famous Marathi scriptwriter Shirish Latkar penned the script while Balkrishna Hodekar was the executive producer. Asked why a show like this was organised, Devendra Goregaonkar, who is on the advisory committee of Onjal, said, "Usually in an orchestra, women only sing or dance. But there are women who play musical instruments and we wanted to give them a platform to demonstrate their skills. Playing the tunes of songs sung by legends like Lata and Asha requires a certain level of competency, which these women successfully demonstrated."

In his post-show speech, Ashok Hande, chief guest of the evening said, "Thane has always been the cultural hub of Maharashtra, and has given a lot to Marathi theatre. Such innovative shows can happen only in Thane." Ramesh Deo, the veteran actor who inaugurated the show, praised the all-woman troupe saying, "They have done well in a field dominated by men. My prediction is that this orchestra will go places, even across the seven seas." Such encouragement from prominent and respected individuals is sure to take the orchestra places – and with it, perhaps the reputation of Thane as a culturally rich society that respects women and men equally.

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