90 MINS | KANNADA, ENGLISH | 2023
Trailer. Poster. Production stills.
Where and all you are roaming, I say?
Why can’t there be a training program for marriage?
Isn't eloping cheap and best?
Why did the brinjal stand up when I went to the market?
Meet Khanavali Chenni – she is either asking questions or being asked questions. Chenni was an iconic character who ruled the Kannada stage with her double-meaning dialogues and sexual innuendo. The play traces the journey of a group of performers who set out on a search for their ancestry - women performers on whose shoulders their work stands. In their search, they hear about the legend of Chenni. While trying to find her, they meet several other actresses who have their own stories to share. Will they eventually meet Chenni? What will they discover? Project Darling is a meditation on female sexuality at the crossroads of censorship and culture
Women and female bodies are central to Kannada’s cultural imagination – from Igappa Hegede Vivaha Prahasana (1887) to Girish Karnad’s Nagamandala (1987) scripted 100 years apart, use female sexuality to define cultural agency. Although the female body is central to its cultural imagination, Kannada theatre’s actual relationship with women as performers has been fraught with anxiety. The female performing body has been subject to several types of invisibilization and marginalization across the history of Kannada theatre. From the 1940s onwards, with the talkies forcing the companies to induct women actresses, the stage began to abound with actresses, on whose artistic merit, dedication and labour, the Kannada company theatre grew and flourished. Yet, modern Kannada theatre (1870 - present) has little to no writing or records of these actresses who were acclaimed singers and actors of the stage through whom the culture defined itself.
As a female performer, writer and director in Kannada theatre, I set out in 2021 through a research
grant from the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) to exhume the hitherto un-researched, marginalized narratives of Kannada Company theatre actresses and examine ways in which they define and defy notions of female respectability and vulgarity. What were the negotiations the women made within the unrelenting misogyny of Kannada company theatre? When misogyny becomes coopted as culture, how does one negotiate it?
My two year research is filled with mutinies, stories, subversions and also my own frustrations at the
contradictory nature of my findings expressed in essays, videos, archival content and talks I have given on the subject. This is the context on which I want to construct a performance that examines what it means to be a female performer of the Kannada stage.
By stepping away from ‘representing’ the subject of the research – the yesteryear actresses – and
instead responding from the bodies of the performers on stage, I hope to find a new language in which solidarities, contradictions and legacies can be unpacked. I want to deconstruct the conventions of dramatic theatre to create novel expressions that can be somewhat more truthful expressions of our lived realities as actresses and women – tending towards distortion, filled with joy, unsettling uncertainty and paradox.
About the artists
Sharanya Ramprakash is a Bengaluru based theatre maker. She places her work in the intersection between gender, tradition and language. She writes, acts, directs and collaborates with a range of forms, communities and theatre makers across local, national and international locations. Her work is research based, collaborative and exploratory. She is an INLAKS scholar and Member of the Lincoln Centre Director’s Lab, New York. She is the recipient of the Shankar Nag Theatre Award 2022. Her latest work includes Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Award (META) winning play Akshayambara, Nava (supported by IFA Project 560), Artificial Hells (Taiwan International Festival of Arts) and Malashree Challenge (Goethe Gender Bender Festival).
Sridhar is currently a research advisor at a Bengaluru based think tank specializing primarily in gender, governance and accountability. He also has extensive experience in theatre production management, backstage and performance design. Prior to this, he spent over a decade and a half working in the corporate sector in research and technology innovation.
Aswin has a PG Diploma in Acting and Theatre Making from Drama School Mumbai (DSM) and a Bachelor's degree in Theatre Studies from Christ University. Over the last 10 years, he has worked in multiple capacities, as an actor, corporate trainer, researcher and as part of running multiple arts/theatre festivals.
Matangi Prasan is a movement artist and actor from Bangalore. She is trained in the Natyashaastra vocabulary of Karanas under Guru Smt Nirupama Rajendra and mentored in abhinaya by Guru Smt Bragha Bessel, Chennai. Her most recent work “Na Hennaade - I became a woman”- a piece exploring the changes a girl experiences post her menstruation using Bharatanatyam received much appreciation. She also has a passion for the Indian Martial Arts and has been training under Mr. Shams Tabrez Jan for the past 5 years.
Surabhi Vasisht is a Bengaluru based actor, director, costume wizard, makeup sorceress, and lighting virtuoso. She is the founder of Namkampani and has been involved in theatre for close to two decades. She honed her craft at the Ninasam theatre institute, deep diving into professional theatre with a specialization in acting and direction. Guided by Abhishek Majumdar from Indian Ensemble, she has also directed theatre productions such as "Sandhaana" and "Salman Khanana Difficultisu".
Shobhana Kumari has been part of LGBTQ+, Dalit rights (rights for marginalized caste groups) and sex worker movements in Bangalore and other parts of Karnataka for the past two decades. Her work involves fundraising and facilitating crisis intervention among local queer and Dalit communities. Lately, she has also been working in community theatre projects and using performance art as an advocacy tool. Her monologue titled ‘Am I A Mass Production Machine? Shobhana and Me’ is an exploration of how female organs and body parts are commonly viewed and discursively presented in society.
Shrunga is an actor working in theatre and films. He is also a puppeteer in training. He has worked with theatre companies in Bangalore, Delhi and Munich.
Shashank Rajashekar - is an actor, writer and theatre practitioner. He has been exploring story telling in its various forms for the past three years during which he has donned several roles. He has participated in multiple workshops, was selected for the Indianostrum Open School Mentorship Programme, took part in Adishakti Masterclass and the Shadow puppetry master class by Katkatha.
Writer and Director | Sharanya Ramprakash
Producer | Prakash Raj (Nirdigantha)
Dramaturge & Production Manager | Sridhar R Prasad
Co-writer | Kruti R Purappemane
Assistant Director & Sound Design | Aswin Varrier
Lighting Design | Bharavi
Music | Rumi Harish, Priyashri Mani & Pardafash
Movement Choreography | Matangi Prasan
Songs | Siddhartha & Dadapeer Jyman
Puppets | Rency Philip
Set Execution | Khaju Guttala
Supported by | India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) Arts Research Grant and Reframe Genderalities Fellowship