Anuja Ghosalkar is a theatre actor, writer and director based in Bangalore. Drama Queen, her theatre company, is evolving a unique form of documentary theatre in India. Anuja has worked with theatre directors like Atul Kumar, Abhishek Majumadar, Kirtana Kumar and Arundhati Raja. She teaches theatre to young adults and children across Bangalore, through Jagriti and Ranga Shankara. When not doing theatre she works on Experimenta, a festival of moving image art in India. In the past, Anuja has worked as a programme officer at India Foundation for the Arts, in film research, curating, writing and teaching cinema. Recently she was an artist-in-residence at Art Lab Gnesta, Sweden where she wrote Lady Anandi.
Since my interview with Staging Our Histories in April 2016, Lady Anandi has transformed. It has had close to 20 shows across India at varied spaces. The significant additions to the performance are music, light design, technical alterations and two new scenes. The overwhelming feedback from the audience was “it needs to be longer”, “we want to know more”. Keeping this in mind the show is now fifty minutes.
Along with presenting Lady Anandi at alternate spaces, it has also shown at mainstream theatres to paying audiences. At first, I thought this might change the dynamic of the Q & A at the end of the show, but audiences have continued to engage with the piece actively. However, in a conventional theatre space, the very act of “reading” a scene holding a paper, causes discomfort to audiences. Why cannot this actor memorize her lines? Why isn’t the narrative linear? Why are the characters standing so close to each other? The revelation that this piece challenges notions of a theatrical performance happened during a show at a well-respected theatre in Bangalore. The bricolage-like form of Lady Anandi with its jagged edges, breaks in narrative, unsettles people, especially theatre critics!
Surprisingly Lady Anandi’s world comes alive in a proscenium space—at a show in Calcutta, I decided to keep the red velvet curtain half open, a sort of peek into the world of late 19th century Marathi theatre. As a dramaturgical device, I thought the curtain framed the show. That same evening, the audience comprised young adults, between the ages of thirteen to eighteen, sat on stage, close to the action. The Lady Anandi, they experienced was markedly different from their parents, seated in the auditorium. Distance between audience and performer changes everything.
The spaces Lady Anandi has been performed at has altered with every show, but it still retains, its raw, DIY style. But the most significant change has come in my body as an actor. I now know this world better than I did in April. The characters, and their impulses are clearer to me and most importantly, I am able to own the unconventional structure of the performance. Through these twenty odd shows I have transformed from researcher, to writer, to director, and now, almost an actor!
I am overwhelmed by what I discovered and experienced in this process of making Lady Anandi. There have been moments of deep self-doubt, joy, fear and anger. But none more mystifying than the ephemerality of performance as act to archive.