Story behind her-story

Theatre artiste Sharanya Ramprakash’s latest play, an experimental work that takes viewers on a journey through the lives of women artistes of yesteryear, was recently staged in the city
A still from the play
A still from the play

BENGALURU: Having taken the theatre stage as her ‘karambhoomi’, Sharanya Ramprakash had this insatiable quest to find forgotten female theatre actors of the Kannada theatre fraternity between the ’60s and ’80s. Project Darling is the result of that quest.

The project is an experimental play, based on a two-year research project, supported by the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) research grant, which was staged on May 25, at Ranga Shankara, JP Nagar.

The play follows performers, searching for their female ancestry in theatre. Along the way, they stumble upon Khanavali Chenni, an iconic character who ruled the stage with her hilarious ‘double entendre’.

“When it comes to female performers, there was so much discussion about vulgarity and respectability. These questions were so beautifully answered by these actors before us who pointed out that the issue lies in the beholder’s head rather than the performer’s body,” Ramprakash shares.

While trying to find the actor who played Chenni, they meet several other actors who have their own stories to share. Ramprakash didn’t initially know how deep the search was going to be but wanted to give it a shot.

“We were in search of who our ancestors were and we thought we would find very few but were surprised to find so many,” she explains.

The research for this project was so intense that Ramprakash found it challenging to condense it into a 90-minute play. “There were many stories and the history is so deep, so vast, how does one put these stories into a 90-minute time frame? How can we even do justice to this? Each woman’s history is like a novel,” she adds.

Ramprakash also confides that going through the research left her feeling a myriad of emotions, especially noticing that these fine actors did not receive due credit. “It made me sad and mostly angry to see the amount of hardship and difficulties that they overcame to become actors but were completely unrecognised.

You will see busts of so many male actors who they acted with, but you will not see any road named after women actors. Few like a Nagarathnamma got the Padma Shri, but beyond her, there’s nobody who got the recognition they deserved. It’s just deliberately lost history that it’s so angering and scary,” she shares.

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The New Indian Express