In a magical women's world

Updated: Sep 22, 2019, 08:15 IST | Nasrin Modak Siddiqi | Mumbai

A musical ode to the forgotten women who nurtured classical arts for centuries

A photograph of two dancing girls, by KL Brajbasi & Co Patna, c.1910s
A photograph of two dancing girls, by KL Brajbasi & Co Patna, c.1910s

When she received a great response for Gul, her short story published in the 2019 fantasy anthology Magical Women, independent journalist and award-winning writer Shreya Ila Anasuya decided to adapt it for stage. For this, she's collaborated with singer Vidhya Gopal and choreographer Shinjita Roy. Then, a chance conversation led educator and performance studies scholar Lopamudra Chatterjee to step in as director and design the layout of the performance piece. And that's how Gul was born.

Narrated by Anasuya, Gul is an ode to music and dance and to the forgotten women who nurtured the north Indian classical arts for hundreds of years. It will be brought alive in song by Gopal and dance by Roy, in an intimate production directed by Chatterjee. Roy explains, "In Gul, we speak of magical women who are unapologetically loving, fierce, monstrous and charismatic. We're using a combination of narration with song and dance to pay respect to these histories, without trying to appropriate their identities. We are excited as this performance gave us an opportunity to include our favourite compositions by Begum Akhtar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Roshan Kumari, Gauharjaan amongst others."

Shreya Ila Anasuya
Shreya Ila Anasuya

Singer Vidhya Gopal has worked with Roy earlier; the two were performing together for years at Chaturangana, an architecture generated, site-specific performance project. Gopal says, "When we read the story it was immediately clear to us that it was a musical, and the three of us decided to collaborate. But the text was a short story, not script. So to make it a theatrical experience, we brought Lopamudra on board to give shape to the production itself."

Chatterjee adds, "The process was very collaborative, since all four of us were constantly negotiating the details of the performance until the dramaturgy was finalised. We tried to step out of conventional modes of representation in order to create a piece which stretches the popular understanding of storytelling."

Anasuya says, "Gul is about many things; it's about Lucknow during the 1857 mutiny, about the history of tawaifs, about myth and magic, about queer love stories that have been made invisible, about music and dance. It's an intimate production with just three people on stage, but a large historical and magical canvas. The women are fictional, but are inspired by dozens of real-life performers of courtesan lineage, including famous ones as well as those who faded into obscurity and whose stories we will never know." Gopal believes that "everyone who is interested in music and dance and in women's history, and those who are moved by stories and enchanted by performances must come for the event."

What: Gul – A Story in Text, Song and Dance
Where: Harkat Studios, Bungalow 94, Aram Nagar 2, JP Road, Versova, Andheri West
When: Saturday, 28 September, 7.30 PM to 9 PM
Entry: Rs 350.
To book: insider.in

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