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Looking beyond the female gaze

Looking beyond the female gaze

Yet another multi-faceted young theatre practitioner has earned herself a ten-day residency at Andheri’s Studio Tamaasha, a venue that is fast developing a reputation as a maker’s asylum that has benevolently opened itself out to a community of young practice. On her first day there, budding theatre-maker and light designer Gurleen Judge curated an evening in which iconic monologues by William Shakespeare, written for male performers, were read and interpreted by female actors like Padma Damodaran, Sanjukta Wagh and Paulomi Ghosh. Over the past week, Judge has been hard at work as artist-in-residence at the studio — her upcoming piece is based on Kafka’s allegorical short story, ‘The Hunger Artist’, and slated to open in November. This weekend, she will present work-in-progress excerpts performed by Vikrant Dhote and Mandar Gokhale, actors who have been double-cast in the solo-piece as its eponymous character.

Building a portfolio

At just 26, Judge already has four productions under her belt as director, and has designed and operated lights for countless others. Two of her early projects — Tennessee Williams’ The Two-Character Play and Ramu Ramanathan’s Ambu and Rajalakshmi — were small, portable plays, but they weren’t staged often. At the time, Judge was just beginning to find her feet in the theatre eco-system. “Quite apart from the constraints of resources and funding, I didn’t have the inclination and drive to run a production,” she says. Being on tour with Dohri Zindagi, her longest running play yet, and being involved with umpteen other shows as a freelance lights operative has allowed Judge to discover how an extended run is absolutely essential to bringing life to a play — its reach continuing well beyond its creation on the floors.

Judge’s first assignment as a light designer for the professional stage was for Ramanathan’s Postcards from Bardoli, which debuted in 2014. It was an epistolary piece that dramatised written exchanges between a intrepid social justice warrior (Amol Parashar) and his father (Jamini Pathak), with Judge’s lighting going a long way into establishing the impasse of generations, geography and gumption between its two protagonists. Ramanathan and Manav Kaul have been particularly influential in her life. Designing lights for Kaul’s Peele Scooterwala Aadmi brought her close to his oeuvre, and she later designed lights for his Chuhal. She remembers how Kaul refreshingly involved the women in his cast and crew in the making of a play that was ostensibly from a woman’s point of view — a departure for the actor-director.

Making a dent

Although one in a handful of female technicians in the business, Judge doesn’t consider herself a trailblazer. “It is a field that attracts very few professionals, men or women,” she says. Neither does she feel privileged in any way by her feminine outlook, explaining, “Not all women might have a fully developed female gaze. Sensitivity depends on an individual, not their gender.” Of course, touring with professional companies have opened her eyes to still extant societal attitudes towards working women. A recent panel clubbed female theatre-makers of widely different sensibilities, experiences, and world-views under a catch-all banner — this kind of categorisation bothers Judge.

The Hunger Artist experienced initial hiccups with planned collaborations with some actors falling through before Judge roped in Dhote, her collaborator on 2016’s Dekho Magar Pyar Se, and Gokhale. Kafka’s story dealt with ‘starvation artists’ who starved themselves in a performative context, and played out suffering, after a kind, for paying and baying audiences. It was a phenomenon once common in Europe and America, and in devising a new work that takes off from that, Judge will attempt to establish linkages with the cotton farmers of Vidarbha, where a spate of farmer suicides have taken place from the 1990s onwards. After her residency at Tamaasha, Judge has pencilled in a stint at the municipality of Wardha in Vidarbha, in order to more intimately research the human condition she is creating her art around.

The Hunger Artist: Work-in-Progress Sharing will take place this evening at Studio Tamaasha, Versova at 7.30 p.m. Visit bookmyshow.com

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