Honour: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan is an eye-opening story of resilience

While the show tackles serious themes, it mixes in elements of comedy, making sure the audience will both laugh and cry

Dipti Mehta stars in this powerful one-woman show. (Photo courtesy of The Cultch)

By: Ashley Lee

While Honour is a fictional play, the story is all too real for sex workers and their families in Mumbai. The play, presented as part of Diwali in BC, is a five-year project founded by Rohit Chokhani that aims to make Diwali celebrations throughout the province. The message of the play has two main objectives: to erase the stigma around women living in brothels, and to raise money for the rescue and rehabilitation of sex workers who have been enslaved by human traffickers. A percentage of all ticket sales go towards helping to stop human sex trafficking around the world.

     The play follows the story of 16-year-old Rani, the daughter of Chameli, a sex worker living in Mumbai. Rani has reached an age where her mother can sell her “honour” and the play presents the struggles both women face when considering Rani’s future. Rani must choose between her mother and the man she loves, while Chameli must decide whether or not to sell her daughter’s honour.

“The struggle of one person having to perform six different characters is tangible, but it was flawlessly executed by the talented Dipti Mehta”

     The play is an emotional roller coaster, with joyful highs and devastating lows. Laughter filled the theatre when the comic relief character, Meena, tried to seduce Chameli’s pimp. But laughter quickly turned to tears when Chameli described how she was forced into the sex industry. When she directly addressed the audience, she placed part of the blame of her predicament surrounding Rani’s honour on them for judging women simply for being associated with a brothel. The audience interaction brought the play to life, and made Rani and Chameli’s problems all too real.

     The struggle of one person having to perform six different characters is tangible, but it was flawlessly executed by the talented Dipti Mehta. She not only performed the entire play herself, but also wrote it, becoming inspired when she saw a documentary on sex trafficking on BBC. Not once was there a visible pause between the switching of characters, nor did Mehta leave any confusion as to which character she was at any given moment. Each character had very distinct attributes that contributed to their personalities, such as Shyam, Chameli’s pimp, who was constantly smoking a beedi when present on stage.

     The story of Rani is intertwined with a traditional Indian epic titled Mahabharata which contributes to the telling of Rani’s story, and there are parallels between the princess in the Mahabharata story and Rani’s character. While the play brings cultural awareness and knowledge of some of the problems people around the world face, please be aware that the language used in this performance is quite vulgar and may be offensive to some people.  

     Overall, Honour was an amazingly written and executed play with a powerful message. Not only does the play entertain, it also teaches. It’s perfect for anyone wishing to support this cause and broaden their understanding of the women living these lives. The remaining showings of Honour can be seen at the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab from October 28 to November 4. Almost all showings start at 8 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased from the Cultch’s website.