Hidimba and her

Updated: Jan 18, 2020, 09:14 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

The mythological character's transformation finds relevance in a contemporary devised performance

Anuradha HR
Anuradha HR

What comes to your mind when you speak of gender domination in the Mahabharata? The story of Draupadi being pawned for a game by the Pandavas? What about the smaller stories?" theatre actor Anuradha HR is full of questions, often ones that can transform into deep discussions or full-length productions. One such, Name the Game/Hidimba, makes its debut in the city after successful shows in New Delhi and her hometown, Bangalore.

A devised performance, written by Shreekanth Rao and conceptualised by the two, the genesis of Name the Game lies in a workshop by Zubaan Books in February last year that aimed to address gender violence in colleges through performance. Anuradha had things to say and Hidimba's story of transformation for Bhima struck her as a metaphor that would resonate even today. "It's the same way a woman feels inadequate for a man's gaze today; quite like hitting the gym to fit into that dress," Anuradha says.

Anuradha HR. Pic/Supratim Bhattacharya
Anuradha HR. Pic/Supratim Bhattacharya

A mythological story, according to Anuradha, gave her the necessary emotional distance to be able to develop a piece that had recall value and was open to interpretation. "She was the first wife of the Pandavas and yet finds very little mention," she says. While the story may draw from the epics, the narrative is one that could fit into any time or place. The performer goes from talking as Hidimba to herself to any woman living in a patriarchal world. "The boundaries are blurred and it is hard to tell who is speaking sometimes, something that is intentional," she says. It also gave Rao, the writer and director, an opportunity to play with the concept of time. "It could be contemporary, it could be ancient. We wanted to leave it open to interpretation," he says.

The story of Hidimba also lends itself to another dimension that Name the Game addresses. "Hidimba came from a different land; in essence, she was adivasi. That brings in the additional layers of beauty being defined based on other discriminatory factors like caste, class and colour," Anuradha explains.

Shreekanth Rao
Shreekanth Rao

She adds that her battle isn't limited to gender and caste, but body image too. It is why her ensemble of plus-sized actors is called The Big Fat Company. "I've spent over two decades in theatre and this is my first solo show. I was always cast in a supporting role owing to my looks," she says. It's a prejudice she is looking to bust with a performance that emphasises that physicality in theatre need not be defined through flexibility or a certain body type. "I may not be able to touch my toes with my head, but I'll find a way to express the same in a different manner. A body on stage makes it physical theatre, not a certain kind of body," she says.

The short, 30-minute performance tells Hidimba's side of the story, but an extended version will include Bhima's take in future shows. "It is important to see how the genders view each other too," she explains. The piece doesn't end in a resolution and that is a deliberate attempt by collaborators Rao and Anuradha, to open up dialogue on sexual violence and gender at large. The performance ends with a half-hour-long discussion and questions from the audience.

On January 18, 7 pm
At Piroja Studio, Zee Nayak, 302, MG Road, Vile Parle East.
Call 9892075622

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