Originally published in the Hindu Metroplus Bangalore edition on June 19th, 2013
Actor, director and Bangalore theatre professional Mallika Prasad’s first role was a devil dressed in high heels, Dracula fangs and a silly cape in a school play. Now with 19 years of performance experience behind her, Prasad plays a different demon in her latest solo theatre performance, Hidden in Plain Sight, at Jagriti Theatre on June 22 and 23.
The drama/comedy performance, co-written and co-directed by Prasad and playwright Ram Ganesh Kamatham, premiered at Goldsmiths College in London last year, where Prasad was studying Performance Making. Hidden in Plain Sight is influenced by an odd grouping of subjects – from the “physical vocabulary” of Kalaripayatu, which Prasad picked up at a workshop in Pondicherry, British playwright Sarah Kane’s text 4.48 Psychosis, which deals with depression, and Prasad’s early work with theatre actor Khalid Tyabji. “The initial impulse I started with was to investigate the idea of being in ‘social limbo’, specific to the experiences of women in Bangalore, in their 30s,” says Prasad.
The performance also continues Prasad and Kamatham’s exploration of urban Bangalore. Inspired by Brian Friel’s Translations, the performance plays with “the feeling of being on the threshold, at a moment of imminent transformation with all its associated emotional responses – nostalgia for the past, fear of death, and equanimity through change,” according to Prasad. Friel’s play dealt with cultural and political identities and language in Ireland, while Hidden in Plain Sight is about four different women when they are in-between worlds. The central plot gives life to the Mailer Daemon, who looks slightly twisted and wicked. It’s not just the software that notifies you about failed delivery emails, but in this performance, it knows of all the conversations – gossip, confessions, despair, hope – that never went through to their intended recipient. Prasad is the only actor in this play, and effortlessly switches characters with help of just lighting, music and some crafty writing, courtesy of Kamatham.
And it certainly has received a very different reception compared to its first performance in London, and now after Prasad returned to Bangalore. “In the first encounter, I was also playing with what it meant to be from urban India engaging with new writing in English,” says Prasad, adding: “The expectation was to conform to the conventions of what is typically called ‘British-South Asian theatre’, so it was really entertaining juggling the identity politics and going completely against the grain.”
Back in India, the performance is being received with a variety of reactions, with some being scandalised, but others completely understanding the crux of Hidden in Plain Sight. Adds Prasad: “After London, we began rework on the play and performed at Adishakti (Lab for Theatre Arts Research) in Pondicherry in December 2012. We then performed at two festivals in early 2013, one at the International Festival of Kerala and one in Bareilly.
In Pondicherry the response was very favourable, and a performance in Thrissur was received by nearly three hundred people. But a show in Bareilly was the craziest so far, according to Prasad, who adds they left a few audience members in scandalised shock. “The way the meaning changes as soon as I meet an audience here is what I find really fascinating right now,” says Prasad.
Hidden in Plain Sight takes place on June 22 and 23at Jagriti Theatre, Whitefield, at 8 pm on Saturday and 3 pm and 6:30 pm on Sunday. Tickets are available at Rs 250, with discounts for senior citizens and students.