Stand up *with D Girls: Rasika Agashe’s solo act is a reminder to speak up!

Rasika Agashe’s theatre piece Stand up *with D Girls is scheduled to take place at Ranga Shankara on May 19

6 min readMay 14, 2024
Rasika Agashe is snapshots from Stand up *with D Girls

By Reema Gowalla

It’s interesting to see the blurring of boundaries between art and life. But what happens when different art forms merge among themselves? Actor-director Rasika Agashe makes a case for the latter through her curious show Stand up *with D Girls, which mixes elements of theatre with that of stand-up comedy. Written, directed and performed by Rasika, the solo act throws light on women’s structured silences in a patriarchal society, while also enquiring into how the country’s socio-political climate impacts women from distinct cultural and income backgrounds. After its multi-city tour, Stand up *with D Girls is finally coming to Bengaluru this weekend, with one show slated for May 19 at Ranga Shankara.

“We have always been told that our behaviour decides what type of a girl we are. It’s very important to know the type, because that decides our fate. Everything is already decided for us, yet we get to watch shocking news about us everyday,” reads the note describing the show. A Being Association presentation, the narrative of the piece is inspired by the writings of Jeelani Bano, Shilpa Adinath Kamble and Roopam Mishra, while it also encompasses vignettes of Rasika’s personal journey.

Ahead of the show, Rasika indulged in a candid conversation with TheatreRoom. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. People seem to wonder if Stand up *with D Girls is theatre or stand-up comedy. What would you call it?

A. Stand up *with D Girls is basically a theatre piece. I think many people were confused about the show’s format — whether it’s stand-up comedy or theatre. I have picked the word ‘standup’, referring to ‘standing up for something’. Obviously, it’s a theatre piece that explores the form of stand-up comedy. I wanted to do something that represents the many women within us. Although we often recognise just the one we live with, I have always felt that we have many women inside us. But because of the fear of being labelled a certain kind of woman in society, we avoid identifying with them. And so, I wanted to explore all those women. Stand up *with D Girls explores 10 women in the piece — from ‘dumb’, ‘drunk’, ‘desperate’ and ‘dagabaz’ to ‘dalit’ and ‘desi’. Overall, despite being inspired by true events, Stand up with D Girls tries to maintain an interactive and entertaining undertone, and avoids being preachy. The piece highlights the fears that women reel under, but also focuses on their aspirations.

Q. Tell us about the stories and poems that have inspired the script of your show…

A. Most of the script is written by me, but the bit about the ‘dalit’ girl is inspired by Marathi author Shilpa Adinath Kamble’s award-winning 2014 novel Nilya Dolyanchi Mulgi [Girl with Blue Eyes]. This part also talks about how we tend to generalise that all women (privileged or disadvantaged) face the same kind of problems in life, which really is not the case. Meanwhile, the bit about the ‘desi girl is influenced by poems written by Roopam Mishra, a young poetess who lives in a remote village in Pratapgarh. The writings of acclaimed Urdu author Jeelani Bano also find a mention in the narrative.

Rest of the text is majorly drawn from my personal experiences. The stand-up comedy format gives me the freedom to incorporate the experiences of my own life in the narrative, particularly my journey from being born into an extreme right-wing family to marrying a muslim man [Rasika is the wife of actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub]. That reflects quite prominently in the piece. In the end, it also sheds light on all the women who are no longer with us and have just become mere numbers.

Q. In today’s India, speaking up for an issue or doing a stand-up comedy show may seem equally difficult. What’s your take on it?

A. Yes, that’s true. One of the reasons I decided to use the stand-up format was that it’s the only medium of performance in India right now through which people are trying to speak the truth. The other art forms are not really giving the space and opportunity just as much. And I feel that only when you stand up for something that you strongly believe in, can you stand up for society and a larger section of people. I found it very strange that as artists, many are still keeping mum about the nation’s current socio-political situation. I wanted to speak about all of that, but a play can give you only so much space. Thus, in order to portray my entire journey — from being part of a Hindu family to getting married to someone from a minority community; from working with dalit activists to being involved with women’s organisations — the stand-up format seemed more appropriate. Given the intersectionality, standing up basically means speaking up.

Q. How important do you think it is for a piece of art to be socio-politically relevant?

A. I feel that theatre is one medium that has always been vocal about the country’s socio-political issues. The works of veteran theatremakers like Vijay Tendulkar and Badal Sircar testify to that. For instance, if a play is about relationships, it’s talking about the politics of gender, relationships, and such.

However, taking a strong political stand, saying no to something or saying ‘not in my name’ is difficult under present circumstances. Hindi theatre, in particular, is yet to become commercially viable. And because ticket sales are still low, productions depend a lot on government grants. So obviously, one cannot speak against the authorities in these shows. This also leads to a kind of self-censorship among artists/groups, as they tend to avoid content that may result in any sort of contention. That said, the stand-up format still allows you the freedom to speak your mind. I think stand-up makes room for the ‘courageous and shameless attitude’ on stage.

Q. When did you first start working on Stand up *with D Girls and how have the audience responded to the show so far?

A. The process started around six months ago. Initially, it took me some time to put a script together that incorporates all that I wanted to say. But then, I began fleshing out the girls’ characters, and eventually the shows came up. So far, we have performed in Lucknow, Patna, Mumbai and Pune, among other places. In fact, some of the show organisers in North India were apprehensive about the content, but we have had such wonderful responses from the audience in all these cities. I think people want to watch something like this. If you see somebody speaking up, you feel like speaking up too. That’s the idea.

People have really enjoyed watching this show. Be it theatre festivals or general venues, I have been getting both stand-up audiences as well as pure theatre lovers. They have really liked the idea of exploring the hybrid format as well as breaking the fourth wall, and we are getting the best responses ever. It’s been an interesting experience for them as an audience and for me as a performer.

Q. On the set, props and length of the show…

A. There’s no set design as such, but I use a stand-up mic and a projector for some referencing. I make use of the entire stage — performing at different spots. For each piece, I use different props and costumes. Although the show generally runs for a duration of 80 minutes, it may become longer at times based on the interactions with the audience.

Stand up *with D Girls is scheduled to take place at Ranga Shankara on May 19 (7.30pm). You can book your tickets here.