September 1999. Editor: Anjum Katyal
By an unusual coincidence, we recently had the opportunity to view two documentaries about the male actor who specializes in playing female roles: Sundari: An Actor Prepares (produced by Majlis, directed by Madhusree Dutta) and Performing the Goddess: Chapal Bhaduri's Story (produced by The Seagull Foundation for the Arts, directed by Naveen Kishore). Both the films are about well-known female impersonators who won renown in their respective theatre traditions as popular 'heroines'.
Quite apart from their interest as documents of a particular theatre era and performance style, these films raise important questions regarding the representation of women and the feminine in performance. When these non-women choose to image a woman, what are the choices they make by way of makeup, costume, posture, gesture, intonation and so on? What impact does the resultant iconization have on the perceived image of the feminine in the minds of the audience? Such imaging has a definite effect on social ideas of appropriate values and behaviour for women. Does this culminate in an intensification of stereotyping, or does the inescapable maleness of the body in fact end up involuntarily subverting the idealized image?
A related question is that of choice. The testimonies of these women-by-choice also show up the fascinating and liberating possibilities of choosing one's own gender construction. The agency that you exercise in making a choice is precisely what women are fighting for. The experience of these films allows one to envision the possibility of a society that grants everyone a freedom of choice in gender roles, removing the repressive weight of social conditioning; a society that separates out the feminine from the biologically female and the masculine from the biologically male.
CONTENTS Shadows, Rods, Sticks and Gloves: Dadi Pudumjee On Puppet Theatre An Interview Theatre Architecture of Calcutta: An Overview Kausik Sanyal Talaq: A Woman Fights Back A Playscript Elangovan Koothu-P-Pattarai's Tenaliraman: An Evaluation Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan Staging a Novel: Ponnyin Selvan Sameera Iyengar Tamasha: An Asian Voice In British Theatre An Interview The Solo Voice An Interview With Nancy Du Plessis Theatre Log British Council Annual School Drama Festival Vikram Iyengar Notebook Download the complete issue here