Heavy ghungaroos, an intricate nath, golden jewelry, bright red bindi, draped in a nine yard sari together with striking expressions and sensual body movements are all characteristics of a true Lavani dancer. Standing true to the name, it’s derived from, ‘lavanya’ in Marathi meaning ‘beauty’; Lavani is a dance style that originated in Maharashtra in the early 18th century. It is a traditional combination of singing and dancing by woman mainly to the beats of a dholki and other percussion instrument. The dance style apart from entertainment also depicts various aspects of society such as religion, politics and romance.
Over the centuries, Lavani has gone through a coarse journey from a respectable art form to a disgraced cheap entertainer for men. It was a popular form of entertainment and morale booster for soldiers during battles; it was highly patronized during the Peshwa rule and was revered as an art that thrived on its sensual nature. But after the fall of the Peshwa empire its distinction and recognition fell and the practice of the dance form moved from royal courts to private kothas. The respectable art form was shunned by the elite class and rechristened as Tamasha rather than dance.
The life of a Lavani dancer since then has been uphill. Exploitation of the dancers, hierocracy of society, lack of funds, and caste and class bias among the performers were a few amongst many. The problems still stand but in recent times the folk dance is being revived and presented to modern audiences by woman. It has even found some representation in popular culture through movies and songs in both regional and Bollywood cinema. The true patriots of the art form have always stood by it in thick and thin. Men too have stepped up and embraced their love for Lavani to save the dying art form.
The film, Chhabi (Image) is a celebration of gender in its broadest platform. It is the story of one such male Lavani dancer Anil Hankare who dresses as a female to perform and entertain. It pays a tribute to his 20 year journey, the joys and struggles of being a Lavani dancer.
Hankare’s unorthodox career choice means that he faces questions from his family and others. He has to battle between his passion to dance as a woman and protect his teenage children who face ridicule from their friends. His effort is to gain respect as a performer and acceptance as a man who dresses up as a woman because of his passion for dance. This film is about his negotiation of the ambiguities of gender which are socially constructed.
This documentary was made by members of Leading Lines as a part of a project while studying Social Communications Media at Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai during the academic year 2014-2015.
The film has won Best Film (Non Fiction Category), Expression2015, School of Film and Mass Communication (Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences), Allahabad (April, 2015)
And previously screened at Kashish Film Festival 2015 (May 2015) and Cut.in 2015 at TISS, Mumbai.
Chhabi will be screened at the Lavani Live! Festival at Godrej One, on 3rd December at 1:30.