Power of the unflinching testimonial

Two show sdemonstrate the importance of intimate and alternative venues

Published - September 06, 2018 06:33 pm IST

  One woman show:  Ankita Kumar-Ratta’s  Undercover Indian

One woman show: Ankita Kumar-Ratta’s Undercover Indian

A wellness studio in Worli will be the site of a ‘hilariously witty’ one-woman play by an Indian Canadian performer which is, quite appropriately, set in a yoga class. The Vedary Studio, only launched earlier this week, will host Ankita Kumar-Ratta’s solo show, Undercover Indian , which has done the rounds of similar venues in Toronto, Bangkok, Eslöv and Pondicherry. It is designed as a site-specific and immersive theatre piece, in which audience-members are invited to playfully participate in a yoga session by Kumar-Ratta although, as the advisory states, no prior yoga experience in required. She takes them through not just basic asanas and stretches, but also the important signposts of her own experiences as a culturally hyphenated individual, whose amalgamated world-views might make for a compelling presentation that is also experienced physically by the spectators in her midst.

Far from insular

The piece is directed by Tracey Erin Smith, the artistic director of Toronto's SOULO Theatre Festival, where Undercover Indian had its earliest shows. Kumar-Ratta was born and raised in Canada, and recently spent two years tracing her roots in India, before journeying back to Canada and putting together this 75-minute show under Smith’s watchful eye. Smith’s recent productions have all involved testimonial elements, in which real-life personal accounts are presented on stage by the subjects themselves with, of course, the theatrical finesse that draws out the universal cadences from each outing. From the Kula Annex in Toronto to the Yoga Mela held at Divinya, a centre for evolutionary consciousness in Sweden’s Skåne County, to a garden in an art gallery, Aurodhan, in Pondicherry, Kumar-Ratta on tour has mapped out a network of holistic locations which, perhaps ironically even, provide the backdrop to a darkly comic autobiographical tale, in which North American culture, with its political correctness and cultural insularity, is looked at from the vantage of a chaotic country located continents away, and rife with its own contradictions.

Real life drama

From undercover to underground, a dramatisation of a seminal ‘human document’ by Haruki Murakami will be showcased at Andheri’s Tamaasha Studio. Helmed by upcoming talent Chinmay Kelkar, and performed by a small ensemble, is based on Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche , the Murakami tome that collated extensive interviews with individuals affected by the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult.

Kelkar’s play takes its title from the book’s supplementary volume, which contentiously included interviews with members of the cult. Both volumes, released between 1997 and 1998, have been translated into English. Once again, as in Undercover Indian, the power of the unflinching testimonial is wielded here, as ‘true stories’ are solemnly recounted in an intimate performative context, although in this case, actors will stand in for real-life victims living run-of-the-mill lives but rudely jolted out of that humdrum existence in ways unimaginable. The piece has been sporadically performed at private residences in Pune, including Kelkar’s own home. The staging of the interviews themselves are likely to lend the outing a charged journalistic vibe — Murakami’s excavations revealed an unsettling portrait of Japanese society, one that was unwilling to look within itself for the malaise that might have allowed fringe elements to crawl out of the woodwork and thrive. It is a reality that perhaps cuts too close to the bone for Indians caught up in these fractious times, more than two decades removed from a turn of events that should have precipitated wide-scale soul-searching and cleansing in Japan, but didn’t quite, if Underground’s findings are to be taken as indicative of the zeitgeist it probed.

Perhaps, this is Kelkar’s way — and young theatre practitioners these days are increasingly and refreshingly drawn to political sentiment — to sound a warning knell about the imminent and present dangers that lurch within our own cocooned worlds.

Undercover Indian will be performed at The Vedary Studio, Worli at 7 p.m. today, call 790000735 ; The Place That Was Promised will be staged at Studio Tamaasha at 7 p.m. today, for more details visit bookmyshow.com

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