Made in India, Soho Theatre

@hannahnicklin: Since reading this I keep on thinking in quiet moments ‘women are raped nightly so I can have tomatoes in winter’

We know we exploit foreign workers for cheap goods, because we’re liberal and aware. But does that stop us? Largely, no – because we can’t afford to. I buy my clothes from Primark and my fruit and veg from the stalls that line Peckham Rye because I work in the arts and I’m poor. I don’t give any thought to where they come from in the transactional moment, but am righteously moved by articles like the one above that Hannah Nicklin tweeted. Sure, this makes me a hypocrite. But I need only to look at the other people also shopping on Sunday mornings to reinforce that I am far from alone. Most of my fellow “liberal elites” (educated, urban and left leaning) are the same, and centuries of imperialism (obviously white, male and western-led) have established the systems that the whole of society (including the liberal factions) implicitly condones through consumerism.

We also know that that patriarchal imperialism extends to women’s bodies. There’s a lot more active anger about this, particularly in America due to the rising attacks on female bodily autonomy. But do we actively pay attention to the plight of women in non-Western or undeveloped countries? Generally, we don’t. Not really. Or, not initially. When we think of women’s rights, we automatically think of what we know first – abortion access, family planning, maternity leave, the tampon tax. We might then think on more general global oppression, with a few token issues popping into our minds – FGM, Saudi women not being allowed to ride bikes, arranged marriages, that sort of thing. But do we, liberal, informed, creative people, connect imperialism and consumerism to women’s bodies on an international scale? Probably not, or at least not on any sort of daily basis unless there’s a specific issue in the news/our social media feeds. We’re only human, and humans are inherently selfish.

This is part of the reason why global theatre is so necessary on our stages. Not only does it represent our rapidly diversifying society and connected world, but it also makes us liberal, white westerners really think about the consequences of being white and western, and the imperialist structures that we are inescapably part of. If our mindsets widen, making us more conscious of the damage we have wrought over centuries and how our current thought patterns are a product of that male imperialism, we will no doubt use our power more positively.

Made in India certainly does these things. The all-female play looks at the complex and controversial landscape of commercial surrogacy in India through the microcosmic relationship between three parties – the surrogate, the doctor and the mother. The English widow has spent all of her savings to have an embryo made from her egg and her dead husband’s sperm. The surrogate is a young woman from a remote village, shamed by her family, but desperate to improve her life. The doctor, who founded the clinic, views herself as a feminist pioneer and successful businesswoman.

All three, bound up with each other through what has become a financial transaction for a service, have much to lose when a ban on foreigners using Indian surrogacy clinics comes into effect. With desperation running high in the three women for very different reasons, bodily autonomy is blurred amongst contracts, political campaigns and money. Complex moral layers peel away to reveal horrifying attitudes ingrained by centuries of western and male dominance, and these three women all become victims of patriarchal systems that treat them as tiny cogs in a massive machine of norms and expectations.

Gina Isaac, Syreeta Kumar and Ulrika Krishnamurti are fantastic as Eva, Dr Gupta and Aditi. Eva’s the easiest to look down on what with her need for a child manifesting as obsessing over Aditi’s womb and wanting to control every stage of Dr Gupta’s procedure. Though, there’s something a bit distasteful in the cold commodification of surrogacy that Dr Gupta cheerfully champions and Eva and for which Eva pays a huge amount. There’s a feeling that she’s hiding something sinister. Aditi is the youthful, naive surrogate exploited for her fertility and willingness to please. Though she chooses to be a surrogate, she has little say in the details of it or the increasing politicisation of this choice. Her lack of education and political understanding are exploited by the other women, making her a victim of the class system and white, western money. Whilst it’s painful to watch this unfold, it’s also wholly necessary.

Adopt a Playwright winner Satinder Chohan’s script is perhaps overly complex, though the tangled storylines certainly bear resemblance to ordinary people adapting to extraordinary circumstances. Chohan has great instinct for generating tension, and doing so within a dual east-west/rich-poor dichotomy is hugely powerful. Bringing together opposing cultures and mindsets makes for strong dramatic conflict as she captures individual stories at the mercy of larger forces.

The play is too detailed to reduce to a singular, simple message, but it’s one that has important themes to communicate. Whilst the British Empire is long gone, the damage is caused lives on. The disturbing superiority of white, western people over non-white, non-western people – especially when money is involved – is deeply ingrained, and we rarely think on it with any sort of regularity. But Chohan’s focus on a vulnerable Indian girl exploited by a monied English marketing exec for her womb, and by an educated doctor to be a spokesperson for a cause she doesn’t really understand, is canny and moving. It’s a powerful commentary and vital, global theatre that’s desperately needed on British stages to expand our own minds as well as showcase the country’s cultural diversity.

Since seeing Made in India in quiet moments I keep thinking, ‘rich white women can rent a poor Indian girl’s womb and she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her’ so that rich white women can have their own babies.

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