When Faezeh Jalali started writing Strictly Unconventional two months ago, she was convinced that it would be a “chilled out” process. “However, there was no such luck,” she chuckles, “It’s me, I can’t chill out!” She is glad, though, to be back on stage rehearsing a new play. Her last production, Bone of Contention, opened in 2019.
Jalali’s new play, which she has written and directed, is a collection of six short stories about “unconventional” relationships—a gay man married to a polyamorous woman, a woman who decides to walk out of a sexless marriage, a lesbian couple dealing with mental health issues, and more.
The seeds of Strictly Unconventional were sown in 2017 when the writer-director did a short piece, titled Marriage of Convenience, for Gaysi’s ninth anniversary. That piece was inspired by a Facebook post she had come across about a gay man and a polyamorous woman in a happy relationship.
Jalali is not satisfied with merely portraying different kinds of relationships on stage. That, she believes, is incidental to the story. What she is more interested in is the dynamics. “Every relationship is unique. I am not saying this is how two transgender people or two lesbians in a relationship will be like. The story I choose to tell is particular to their situation. It’s giving representation to the non-conformity of their lives,” she says. Given her tendency to lean towards humour, the stories are told with a touch of lightheartedness, while doing justice to the depth of the relationships.
Representation on stage is another matter of interest for the playwright. The audience, she feels, has become used to seeing male-female coupling on stage. Even when it comes to same-sex couples, Jalali finds the axis tilting towards male representation, although she admits that’s more in movies than onstage. “I think it’s time to give more representation to coupling that’s not hetero-normative,” she says.
She wonders that even though the play is titled Strictly Unconventional, what is “unconventional” really. “It’s just that over time, we have seen only one kind of relationship and we have been hardwired into thinking that is the norm. And that’s why, the title is a sort of joke in itself,” Jalali adds.
A look at some of her earlier award-winning plays such as 07/07/07 and Shikhandi – The Story of the In-betweens, is enough to tell you that Jalali has no interest in preaching anything to her audience. She is satisfied if by the end of the evening, they are open to the idea of such possibilities of living. “I really want theatre to represent, it should be just as “normal” to see different pairings as it is to see hetero-cis able-bodied couples on stage,” she elaborates.
Strictly Unconventional will be staged on July 7 and 8 at Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai