‘Sakshi – Her Story’, a mono drama, all set to be performed on August 11 in Goa, is about the resilience of women in the face of adversity and loss, finds NT BUZZ
CHRISTINE MACHADO| NT BUZZ
In 2015, theatre actor, writer and scholar Akhila Ramnarayan won (“rather unexpectedly”) the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar award for acting. As part of the award ceremony which was to be held in Agartala, she learnt that they had requested a performance as well.
Her mother, playwright Gowri Ramnarayan, also a veteran writer and journalist, was in America at that time and returned just a few days before the ceremony, leaving them with little time to put together a new act.
It was then that they came up with the idea of creating a single act monologue – ‘Sakshi–Her Story’ – portraying three characters taken from three of Gowri’s previous plays – ‘Night’s End’, ‘Flame of the Forest’, and ‘Sarpa Sutra’ done through her theatre company Just Us Repertory.
Performed by Akhila, the hour long play is now all set to be staged in Goa on August 11. It weaves together the testimonies of Chandni, a Mogiya tribal in present-day Rajasthan; Sivakami, a temple dancer from Tamil Nadu during the reign of the Pallava dynasty; and Jaratkaru, a Naga woman in the Mahabharata, from the margin of war.
Each character expresses her innermost dilemmas and questions, even as the actions of the mightier impinge upon her. Are our forests safe? Can loneliness be overcome? Can tribal and other marginalised communities sustain their way of life in the modern world? How can the oppressed assert their rights? The play examines these questions.
“It explores the perspective of the oppressed. As women who lived through war, ‘Sakshi – Her Story’ counters the official narrative of history because it comes from the perspective of a woman who survived the war, survived the violence,” explains Akhila. ‘Sakshi’ means witness and the play demonstrates the resilience of the women in the face of violence and loss, exploring the themes of abandonment and responsibility while they struggle to survive in the complex socio-political webs.
“It was my idea to call it ‘Sakshi’ because I found it striking how on one hand, it is me telling an epic from a woman’s perspective and on the other hand, you see the original plays through the eyes of these three women characters,” reveals Akhila.
She further clarifies that the mono-act wasn’t just something put together only because of paucity of time. “I don’t think we would have done it if we didn’t believe that this reworking into a monodrama was an important thing to do. It felt like the right thing to do on such an occasion to remind people that our purpose in theatre is to raise awareness about the world in which we live,” she says and adds, “We passionately believe in each of the questions that these characters raise in the monodrama.”
Having worked on all three of the earlier productions in different capacities, Akhila states that she knew all the characters by heart. “I felt their situations and their emotions keenly. Also, as I had been Chandni from the very beginning this was probably the easiest one to play in a way,” she says.
However post the performance at the awards show, Akhila admits that they had kind of forgotten about it until last year where the show was put up twice in Chennai as part of a theatre series and later at The Annapurna International School of Film and Media in Hyderabad. “It felt nice to revive it and take it to different places as we have had lovely audience reactions every time we staged it,” says Akhila.
Elaborating further on the audience response, Akhila states that a few people had admitted that they felt their hearts break upon seeing the situation of each character. “If you can get the audience to feel like this it is really wonderful because you have done your job in that sense,” she said.
She was also particularly moved by the review of a 16 year old girl who observed that it took something as terrible as war to see the strength of these characters.
Another person observed that when war starts, egomaniacs toss into the war, the very people they are trying to protect. The unthinking cruelty of this was found very troubling and thought-provoking. The theme of displacement also resonated strongly.
Others also especially liked the combination of dialogue with movement as Akhila, who is also a trained Carnatic vocalist, sings and does a few dance movements, as “people like something that reminds them of women of the past”.
Given that the play also demonstrates women power, it is especially relevant in today’s times. “Studies have shown that India is number one in atrocities against women. So I think it is important for us through art to raise these questions about how women can get up and speak up,” says Akhila.
And while a mono act has its challenges in terms of not having other cast members to rely on, the beauty of it, states Akhila, is that you have to depend and communicate directly with the audience. “Some things are better said by one person to the audience,” she says.
Being used to performing in large theatres, the close setting in her upcoming performance here in Goa also excites her as she believes this will make the whole experience more intimate.
Akhila further adds that the Goa performance will be all the more special because clinical psychologist and author Amrita Narayanan will be introducing the play and later engage in a dialogue on it. “I believe that she will bring something new to the play, to the audience and to me. It will be nice to have a chat across our specialties,” says Akhila, who also happens to have been school mates with Amrita.
(‘Sakshi – Her Story: One Monodrama. Three Women Bearing Witness To War’ will be performed on August 11, 6.30 p.m. at Gallery Gitanjali, Panaji)