The Manganiyar Seduction

The Manganiyar Seduction

The Manganiyar Seduction

The Manganiyar Seduction is a presentation of religious songs by a troupe of Indian Muslims. Elements of Hindu worship are featured in the songs, though only one of the forty-two performers is actually Hindu. The show was originally performed as a prelude to the 2006 Delhi film festival and has been touring ever since. Think of it as a kind of Riverdance (Eurovision version) – a small, locally specific and performance-contextual spectacle that has reached a wider audience.

The festival programme promised I would be “blown away” by this show because I will never have experienced anything quite like it before and may never again. I beg to differ. In the late 1990s, I attended a not dissimilar musical evening in the National Concert Hall. As a musical performance, the NCH event was made more intellectually legible by the interpolations of an emcee, who explained precisely what each piece was meant to represent. This resulted in a degree of narrativisation, but did not detract from its status as a musical experience, which built from the drum-beats of the creation of the world to a crescendo of ecstatic prayer. By the end, at least one man was literally dancing in the aisles, though NCH staff quietly tried to return him to his seat.

Ironically, The Manganiyar Seduction seems considerably more like a concert. Though the programme does, in fact, outline the three basic stories unfolding in music (the birth of Krishna, a love song between wife and husband who has too little time to be with her, and a royal wedding song), the performance itself presents no breaks and there is no sur-titling. The audience is left with more or less a pure sonic appreciation, and we should therefore be reviewing it as a concert, right? Ah, not quite. There is a set. A very big one.

The musicians are seated on a four-storey structure comprised of thirty-three individual curtained compartments, each surrounded by a bank of thirteen or so lights. As the show unfolds, not only do more compartments become visible, the lights turn on and off in sequence (and eventually in patterns – making it somewhat inter-textual with the Festival’s Liberty Hall Playhouse presentation). A conductor (Daevo Khan) also appears, facing the troupe with his back to the audience and playing the Kharthal (a clicking hand instrument similar to Spanish castanets). There is therefore a theatrical presentation side here that draws attention to the means by which sound is delivered. The drama of performativity is being enacted through the performance.

As far as this goes, it is instructive to be able to clearly see each singer and musician, particularly because of the way the singers use their hands, rising and falling with the music, seeming to provide emphasis and possibly breath control. It is also clear that Daevo Khan’s performance is as much part of the show as it is a job of work, breaking the perhaps too rigidly formal delineation between this grid of performers and the audience. The show has a director, Roysten Abel, and his role, one presumes, has been to imagine and create this exhibition space, and envision its theatrical unfolding.

There is no denying the skill and artistry of the performers, or the world music pleasures of the show. It is good in general terms to be able to experience this, and it is a presentation of cultural diversity that does no harm for any audience to have the capacity to encounter, it in a forum such as the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. But there is also a point at which the whole thing becomes alienating at a level that subverts many of these very features. Without a true sense of context or grounding, especially in language (no emcee, no sur-titles, too dark to read the programme, and no way to know where the breaks in song really are), the average non-Muslim listener will become a listener in just the broadest sense.

There is nothing in the staging that gives any cues, clues, or codes with which to understand the meaning of this spectacle: you are instead invited only to appreciate the technique. This is all well and good, but as the NCH experience showed, with a little acknowledgment of the cultural distance between performers and the audience, this could have been more successfully bridged to provide a more enriching and satisfying experience.


Harvey O’Brien is a writer and critic, and lectures in Film Studies at University College Dublin.


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  • Review
  • Theatre

The Manganiyar Seduction by Can & Abel Theatre

24 - 27 September 2009

Produced by Can & Abel
In Gaiety Theatre