HONOUR: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan is a fictional story but it could not be closer to the truth for millions of sex trafficking victims. When I was a child growing up in Mumbai there were certain neighborhoods that were forbidden to us, that we would not dare to visit. While society lived by these boundaries, government did not. Public transport did not differentiate between neighborhoods and social classifications. Bus numbers 102 and 105 that would take a commuter to Walkeshwar -- one of the richest neighborhoods in South Mumbai, would also take you to Falkland road, one of the many red light districts of South Mumbai. Astonishing isn’t it, that a few miles can change the world so much.
Very rarely did we take these buses but when we did, my eyes were glued to the window. Afraid to be caught looking I would pretend not to look but devoured every detail that I could see but was forbidden to discuss. In the short amount of time it took the bus to traverse the road, I could see small rooms with a curtain hanging outside or around a bed, women standing outside make shift doors in revealing clothes and red lipstick, and lots of half naked children running around. My 8 year old eyes wondered what all this meant. I knew it was not safe to ask questions so I didn’t. It wasn’t until my teens that I understood what was happening behind those curtains. What, I wondered, was to happen to those kids running around half clothed? I imagined they would want to go to school but how could they? What would happen to the girls? Would they follow the path of their mothers? And, the boys -- would they also grow up to kidnap girls so they could be sold? Why wasn’t anyone worried about these kids?
Those questions were the first seeds for HONOUR: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan. Prostitutes were fascinating to me. I wanted to know them; I wanted to know how their souls were different from us, the normal women. Why were they doing what they were doing? Where were the concerned adults speaking for them or with them? Why were they forbidden from religious gatherings and uniformly denied respect of any kind? So many questions! They came up every now and then, when I took bus number 102 or 105 --which I did not take very often. I got busy with Theater, Radio, TV, Film and voice over work and left these questions on the back burner. In 2009 when I moved to NYC area and found myself looking for acting jobs and realizing there were not that many, I was left with the gift of time. Time that brought back nostalgic memories of home and those unanswered questions. That was the birth of HONOUR: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan.
HONOUR: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan is an attempt to break stereotypes. It is a piece that operates on many levels: music, dance and storytelling, in order to engage the viewer on a very visceral level. It connects the hearts of the characters to those of the audiences watching their story. For these 65 minutes we are one community, viewers and brothel dwellers, connected through our shared humanity.
The purpose of creating HONOUR: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan is to raise awareness and break down the social stigma that exists around sex workers. The show gives voice to trafficked victims in a way that reaches the viewer’s soul. Why is there ever an us and a them? That is the question at the center of the piece. I am committed to breaking down those barriers and making a difference in the community of sex workers. If I can reach one heart, if I can change one soul, if I can move one human being by this piece, the world shifts. I want to shift the world a million times, reaching as many people as I can, connect us as human beings through love and compassion. When all the labels are taken away what remains is a mother, a daughter, a friend, someone trying to survive, trying to create a safe haven for their family, a life that is precious and beautiful filled with hopes and dreams, innocence and laughter, heartbreaks and sadness; this is the story told in HONOUR: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan. A tribute to millions of sex trafficking victims around the globe.
Dipti Mehta (PhD) (Playwright/Performer)
I discovered the power of theater at a very young age of 6 in Mumbai, India and continued to do theater through school and college. I was fortunate to get opportunities to voice my opinions on All India Radio at the young age of 13. According to me theater is a very powerful way to bring about any social change. I discovered my calling to be an actor before I could understand what a calling meant. It was the desire to make a difference through art that led me to writing “Honour”. “Honour” is very close to my heart and it speaks to the viewer’s soul. In parallel to “Honour”, I have been on interactive anti-sex trafficking panels with FBI agent Mara Schneider, Writer and Social worker, Stuart Perrin, Law professor Gloria Brown Marshal, and groups like ECPAT and AF3IRM. Besides acting my passion is reading and writing. I get inspired from my environment and people around me. I believe that art is not distinct from life, they are in-separable.
TV credits include “The Blacklist” (NBC), "Golden Boy" (CBS), “Deadline Crime with Tamron Hall’ (Investigation Discovery), "One Life to Live", “Virrudh”, “Hum-Tum”, and “Yoga for you”. Film credits include "Split", “I Dream of Hope”, “Midnight Delight”, “Far Away”, "Penumbra" (Cannes Short Film Corner), “A box came to Brooklyn”, “Life! Camera Action” (Winner- 11 nominations and 3 awards), “A good life”, “Walkaway”, “Mamarosh”, “Red Corvette”, “Victory”, “Colors of Passion”, and “Summer of 2007”. Theater credits include “Half Hearted” (Cherry Lane Theater), “Grahan...the Eclipse” (Winner-4 awards), “Nishfal” (Winner-2 awards), “Get Back”, “Vagina Monologues” (Abingdon Theater),“Honour” (La MaMa & Urban Stages) and “Bollywood Wedding”.
Mark Cirnigliaro (Director)
Mark has been working as a professional actor, director and coach for the last 16 years in New York City and the surrounding area. As an actor he studied with the famed William Esper at William Epser Studios. Mark has appeared in One Life to Live, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, All My Children and 30 Rock as well as the independent features The Project, Absolute Trust, Loveless and Wildlike. Mark has won the Samuel French Competition twice with The King and The Condemned by Larry Brenner(Actor) and Mountain Song by Josh Beerman (Director). He was nominated for Best Director at the Wonderland One-Act Festival and was the only male director with an official selection at Eve Enslers original V-Day UTVS Film Festival. He directed the first scholastic productions of Annie Baker's The Aliens and Rajiv Jospeh's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo as well as numerous world premiers, most notably The Hounds of War by Bill Holland (Broadwayworld.com "Must See"), The Little Princess by Jennifer Bowen (June Havoc Theatre), The Judgment of Fools by Bernardo Cubria (INTAR Theatre) and Honour by Dipti Mehta (Urban Stages). Mark is the Associate Artistic Director of Mile Square Theatre, a company member of InViolet Theatre and co-founder of Wee Man Productions. He is currently an adjunct theatre professor at Nassau Community College and Hudson County Community College. He graduated Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts with his MFA in Directing, earning the Dean John I Bettenbender Award for Artistic Excellence.