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Documentary theatre piece Lady Anandi to debut on stage in Mumbai

Mumbai, get ready for a work-in-progress documentary theatre piece titled Lady Anandi in which a Bengaluru-based artiste explores the female identity in the archives of her great grandfather

This Sunday, Sitara Studio will turn into a time capsule as Bengaluru-based theatre artiste Anuja Ghosalkar will bring alive text and characters from the late 19th and early 20th century Marathi plays in a documentary theatre piece, Lady Anandi. The performance marks the Mumbai debut of the 45-minute work-in-progress piece, written during the artiste's residency in Sweden last October. Post the first presentation in Stockholm, Ghosalkar has performed Lady Anandi in Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru.

Madhavrao Tipnis as Lady Anandi (right) in the play, Bhaubandaki
Madhavrao Tipnis as Lady Anandi (right) in the play, Bhaubandaki

Past forward
A personal exploration of the family archive, the piece (in English with snatches of Marathi) is based on Ghosalkar's maternal great grandfather, Madhavrao Tipnis. "He was a female impersonator in the late 19th century Marathi theatre. So, I decided to write a text about him and me — two actors, separated by 100 years, one who plays female characters convincingly and the other struggling to be a lady," shares the 37-year-old, who runs a theatre company, Drama Queen, evolving a unique form of documentary theatre in India.

Tipnis (left) played Kichak in Krishnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar’s Kichak Vadh
Tipnis (left) played Kichak in Krishnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar’s Kichak Vadh

Without a linear plot, the performance features the artiste as Lady F, an actor who sees the ghost of her great grandfather each time she goes on stage. When she encounters him, he is dressed as Lady Anandi, a controversial 18th century historical figure (the wife of Peshwa Raghunath Rao infamous for plotting the death of her nephew) and a character from the famous playwright Krishnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar's Bhaubandaki (1909) based on the Peshwa feud of 1770s. F turns to his photos to bring alive the characters he essayed from plays like Kichak Vadh, Kanchangadchi Mohana, Manjirao (Macbeth) and Sangeet Chandragrahan. "Playing the female roles that my great grandfather played were tougher for me. The idealised, hyper-feminine characters that female impersonators delineated are hard to recreate," she informs.

Anuja Ghosalkar performs against an archival photograph of  Madhavrao Tipnis
Anuja Ghosalkar performs against an archival photograph of  Madhavrao Tipnis Madhavrao Tipnis as Lady Anandi (right) in the play, Bhaubandaki

The audience will also witness research material and photographs, sourced from theatre archives and personal family albums, juxtaposed with the performance. "I looked for texts of plays that were performed by my great grand father and his theatre company, Maharashtra Natak Mandali. I also looked at biographies of other female impersonators. The research process was long but rewarding," she adds.

Ghosalkar in an earlier performance of Lady Anandi in New Delhi
Ghosalkar in an earlier performance of Lady Anandi in New Delhi

It's WIP
The work-in-progress nature of the performance extends to the content — sometimes, Ghosalkar rewrites scenes before the show and even changes the climax — and technical aspects too. She explains, "You might see the speaker icon pop on the screen during the performance while music is being played. In traditional theatre format, it would be blasphemous. But here, a technical person comes on board on the day of the show and s/he may make mistakes. However, the DIY method works since it's an unfunded piece. Also, I collaborate with local groups in each city that I visit. So, I become a part of that group and they become my production team."

Post the performance, Ghosalkar will be in a Q&A session with award-winning experimental filmmaker and installation artist Shumona Goel. "She has worked extensively with archival material in her work. The Q&A is an important part of a performance like mine because the audience might find gaps in it. Shumona has seen the work and during our conversation, she will be able to draw attention to things like the importance of form while creating work, the relation between image and text, etc," shares the Bandra-born artiste.

On: April 17, 6 pm 
At: Sitara Studio. Garage Lane, KG Marg, Lower Parel.
Cost: Rs 250 
Call: 24221666

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