Theatre actor Anuja Ghosalkar’s current work Lady Anandi piques one’s interest in many ways.
First of all, it’s an unfinished piece, or as she likes to put it “60 per cent undone”. Second, it tells the story of her maternal great grandfather, Madhavrao Tipnis, who was a female impersonator in Marathi theatre in the late 1800s. It compares what it meant for a man to play the role of a woman back in the day, and for Mumbai-born and Bengaluru-based Ghosalkar to play a woman with “authenticity” today. And since much of it is a real story, her team at Bengaluru’s Drama Queen has gone the docu-theatre way, a genre that’s catching up in the theatre circles lately. So expect images and documents dug out from century-old archives, and libraries as part of the narrative.
Brush with history
“It’s like a performance on a footnote,” a JNU student remarked after watching the play in New Delhi recently. Ghosalkar took it with a smile, as she treats it no less than a research paper. The text for Lady Anandi was written last September, during her month-long residency at Art Lab Gnesta, Sweden. In the play, Lady F, an actor-writer, is haunted by the ghost of her maternal great grandfather every time she goes on stage. When she encounters him, she finds him dressed as a woman in a red silk sari, essaying the role of Lady Anandi — a controversial 18th century Indian historical figure, who forced her husband to become a murderer for power.
The idea of looking up her ancestor’s work had lingered in her head since she read Virginia Wolf’s A Room of One’s Own two years ago. It mentions Judith, William Shakespeare’s imaginary sister. Though she was as talented as her brother, she didn’t have the access to education and opportunities. It was a comment on the lack of women writers and actors in those times. Ghosalkar says, “There were very few female actors when my great grandfather performed. That got me thinking what would it had been like – for him to play a woman.”
Work in progress
Lack of funds, as well as people who can’t devote “time of their lives” to Lady Anandi got Ghosalkar to “run with it unfinished”. And that ended up playing to her benefit. Does Ghosalkar ever intend to finish the piece, we ask? “That’s a good question,” she laughs, and adds, “Yes. I will. An unfinished piece, as I see it now, would mean a good technical piece, with a light designer on board, and a director. Of course, funding.”
Entry free. March 11 (At
Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Sadashivanagar, 6.30 pm); March 12 (At BeaglesLoft, Ulsoor Road, 6.30 pm). Details: sandboxcollective.org
— Barkha Kumari