Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal: In Conversation

Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, an actress of repute and the power behind the wildly successful Vagina Monologues in India; speaks candidly at a recent event in Mumbai.

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For the second guest of the day in this session of Jam with Sam, we have the indomitable Mahabanoo Mody-kotwal.
A prolific actor, director and producer in theater, film and radio, she’s also a microbiologist and a change agent who’s highly passionate about women empowerment.

Mahabanoo was chosen as one of the 50 most powerful women in India and one of 200 most inspirational women in the world. She runs her own production company “poor box productions”, has acted in Bollywood films such as “Black”, graced countless magazine covers and made the highly renowned and extremely popular vagina monologues.

Roots
Coming from a family of doctors, she got a double degree in microbiology and geology from St.Xavier’s college but had no aspirations to be a doctor herself. She went on to work with the man who made crest toothpaste but realized her calling was in theatre.

Vagina Monologues
One day she watched the play vagina monologues abroad after hearing about it from her son, and was blown away by it. She wanted to bring it to India and discussed with Eve Ensler about it, eventually becoming a good friend of hers.

But she did encounter problems with actors and producers, but fortunately never with censorship except by theatres themselves, so decided to invest in the production on her own before she found a terrific set of actors and rest, with over 1000 shows including Hindi version till date, as they say is history.

They’ve been able to give away more than 1 crore through fundraisers through the play, with more men coming to see it these days.
The feud with Alyque Padamsee was touched upon even though she insisted she had no problems, but only felt it was ill timed and badly written. Her cheeky answer to media at that time for the latter’s failure was ” The penis has to flop sometime”

Movie time
Her first movie was set in London, about a boy with brittle bones called ” sixth happiness” where they had got the real life kid to play the protagonist. Her second movie was “Black”.
She loves Rock Hudson and Paul Newman as well as admiring Amitabh Bachchan who stands out amongst everyone else.
Theater
She feels theater has changed a lot with audience being more receptive although she dislikes the experimental stuff of the new age. She loves Marathi plays and told a story about how tendulkar was scared to translate vagina monologues in Marathi due to the fear of a political party.
Quick gun Sam
A new and exciting part of the show had Sam asking the guests their first reactions to specific words with Mahabanoo answering the following.
Money – Lovely
Men – Nice
Bollywood – No comments
India – Hopeless
Mumbai – More hopeless
Politics – Bullshit
Karan Johar – Love him

Personal
Mahabanoo feels social media can be a great instrument for social change and elucidated an incident where a show for 300 underprivileged children and women was sponsored by strangers from social networks.
She spends her time alone, is socially autistic, loves elephants for their human quality and is against hunting for sport. She’s also a big advocate of NOTA and hopes more people will vote for it to bring a change.
She also said that being alone helped bring about a big change in her life views and overcoming her fears.

Women in India
Mahabanoo feels India is the worst state for women, with us being a misogynistic society, and like a famous oriya writer after watching her play said, it will take more than 100 years to change the mindset. She is trying her best to bring awareness on it and told a heart wrenching story about a woman who escaped an abusive relationship after watching the vagina monologues, which made her really proud.
She feels laws and their implementation have been useless and feels it to be insult to compare ourselves to Arab and African nations.

She’s against the rehabilitation of juvenile rapists, feeling that if they’re old enough to rape, they’re old enough to face the gong and supports death penalty of rapists and murderers. She recited the following poem.

A woman stood at the heavenly gates,
Her face was scarred and old.
She stood before the man of fate
for admission to the fold.
“What have you done,” St Peter asked,
“To gain admission here?”
“I’ve lived in India, sir,” she said,
“For many and many a year.”
The pearly gates swung open wide,
St Peter touched the bell.
“Come in and choose your harp,” he
said. “You’ve had your share of hell!”

What’s ahead

She’s working on new play called emotional creatures, a series of life stories about women around the world and another dark tale about the catholic church apart from her work for social causes and women empowerment.