The trailblazing Dr Anandibai

Ode to legend: Dr Anandibai Gopal Joshi; (below) Manasi Prabhakar Joshi  

Although she died at the age of 21, Dr Anandibai Gopal Joshi was already a trailblazer who paved the way for female doctors in the country, by becoming one of the very first Indian women to acquire a medical degree in 1886. Kadambini Ganguly had also graduated as a physician from Calcutta the same year as Anandibai, and went on to enjoy a long practice. Married as a child at just nine to a man 20 years older, the early death of her first born was one of the reasons that motivated Anandibai to enrol at Drexel University College of Medicine, Pennsylvania, the first women’s medical college in the world.

An inspiring life

Before her untimely death in 1887, Anandibai had already been appointed as the physician-in-charge of the female ward at the Albert Edward Hospital in Kolhapur. Early biographical accounts presented her husband, Gopalrao, as a progressive who supported her every endeavour. Ram C Joglekar’s Anandi Gopal, written in 1976, was one of the first plays on her life. It was based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Shrikrishna Janardan Joshi, a moderately fictionalised account in which Gopalrao was presented far less sympathetically.

This weekend, Anandibai’s story will be staged in the city, in a Gujarati adaptation by Gita Manek directed by the prolific Manoj Shah. Featuring Manasi Prabhakar Joshi, Dr Anandibai is a solo performance that was first performed at NCPA’s Centrestage Festival last December. Since then, Shah and Joshi have also staged the play in Hindi and Marathi and have completed ten odd shows, including an outing to Delhi as part of the Theatre Olympics. The play is not a biographical enactment of Anandibai’s life. “It is a modern script in which you can say I assume her ‘soul’, and speak about aspects of her life to a contemporary audience,” says Joshi. Accordingly, there is an absence of period detailing — Joshi wears modern clothes, and not the distinctively draped sari visible in archival photographs featuring Anandibai. Shah’s recent plays have been monologues in which an actor attempts to inhabit the persona of an icon while creating a convivial rapport with the audience. Pratik Gandhi was a disarmingly affable Mahatma Gandhi in Mohan's Masala, also staged in three languages, and Satchit Puranik took on the title part in Karl Marx in Kalbadevi (which will also be staged at G5A this weekend).

The trailblazing Dr Anandibai

Prolific performances

The last six months have been particularly gratifying for Joshi, with two of her plays doing the rounds of theatres in Maharashtra and beyond. Apart from Dr Anandibai, she also plays opposite Shubhangi Sadavarte in Prajakt Deshmukh’s Sangeet Devbabhali, which has completed more than 75 shows in just six months since opening in December just a fortnight after the first performance as Anandibai. In Deshmukh’s production, she plays a veritable goddess — Rakumai, the consort of Vitthal of Pandharpur — who descends upon the household of Avali (Sadavarte), Tukaram’s hapless wife. Joshi and Sadavarte mellifluously sing several of the abhangas in the play live, and Rakumai, especially, emerges as an enduring paragon of womanhood, in which feminine agency and shakti comes packaged with the resilience to take on patriarchal norms (even if they are embodied by a godly avatar one might otherwise be completely devoted to).

Joshi was thus able to create connections between Rakumai and Anandibai, who is depicted in Manek’s script as someone who fulfils her ambitions not because of her husband, but despite him. “They are both women in the end, and switching between the two personas was both challenging, and meaningful,” says the talented Joshi. Deshmukh’s play, despite its delicately intimate cadences, is being staged in professional venues as a bonafide commercial venture, while Shah’s piece is more at home at alternative spaces. This allows Joshi to experience both worlds — the experimental and the mainstream — in a way that blurs the distinction between the two.

Dr Anandibai will be performed at the G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Mahalaxmi, this evening at 7:30 p.m; more details at

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 10:56:30 AM |

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