Dirty Pakistani Lingerie
Arriving at the Harbourfront Centre after a ho-hum time at another festival, I study the Masala! Mehndi! Masti! program. "Dirty Pakistani Lingerie: Six Pakistani American females air their dirty lingerie while struggling to find their place at the chaotic juncture of two very different cultures. Nothing is off limits. Warning: This show will offend! 18+" Done. I'm there.
Once inside the theatre, I race to the front row and sit almost smack-daddy in the middle. I'm ready for controversy. I'm ready for dirty lingerie. What I expected was a rotation of six women playing characters who struggle with their Eastern and Western identities. The familiar adage of mommy and daddy want this but I want that, I just lost my virginity to a dude whom I thought I would marry, but now he says he wants an untouched, pure bride and a general mash-up of ABCD issues. I expected all of this performed by six Pakistani-American women clad in sexy lingerie and hooker high heels.
What I got was a single Pakistani-American female draped from head to toe in loose black clothes and a green shawl, seamlessly switching back and forth from one character to another. Actor and playwright, Aizzah Fatima, skillfully portrays the "dirty" that South Asian women - or arguably all women - from the East and West alike endure, with equal amounts of seriousness and humour. And The "dirty" is not so much in the lingerie - of which yes, I noted the cut and style - but in the struggles of the six characters' lives. Struggles that force most of the characters to question what they want at the risk of dissatisfying their male counterparts.
The 20-year old visitor to America, Ameera, rationalizes that she will marry suitor Rayyan even though she is not attracted to him. Feminist Selma must choose between Harvard University and her fiancé, whom may not be right for her. Asma's attempts to find her 20 or 30-something year-old daughter a husband are met with failure due to her physical appearance and level of education - "Too educated!" Raheela thinks she has met a man she shares a connection with until he asks her to meet him in a plane's cabin washroom. After years of enduring an unhappy marriage, Humeira explains her decision to divorce to her daughter.
The young poet who struggles with where to live at the risk of losing her gift of writing puts the question of female sacrifice to the audience. Drawing inspiration from Poet Ghalib, Aizzah explains: "According to Ghalib there are a thousand wishes we all have that we would die for to come true. Even though a lot of them have come true, it is still not enough. The question is at what cost do you want those wishes to come true?"
Although each character portrayal rings loud and clear with South Asian familiarity, Dirty Pakistani Lingerie transcends cultural boundaries and breaks down stereotypes of Muslims. Pakistani Mother Asma can be anyone's concerned mother; Muslim-American Raheela can be any woman whom gets taken by a cute guy at an airport terminal and Pakistani-born Ameera, like any girl, looks forward to wearing lingerie for her husband-to-be.
Basing her characters on the experiences of real people whom she knows, Aizzah explains her inspiration for the play: "Dirty Paki Lingerie was born out of the current climate in the US to show realistic portrayals of American Muslims. In fact, I hope the audience comes away with the impression that there is nothing contradictory about being a Muslim-American or a Pakistani-American."
A hybrid or Canadian-Muslim myself, I agree. There is nothing contradictory about being a (North) American Muslim. US politics aside, it's only when a woman - regardless of where in the world she is - is either forced to give up, or made to reconsider her happiness for the interests of a man or in the name of culture, that there is dirty lingerie.
Dirty Pakistani Lingerie is directed by Erica Gould. A performance is scheduled in Manhattan, New York on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Dirty Pakistani Lingerie premiered July 16-30 at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in Manhattan, New York.