The Mrichhakatika Project

The Mrichhakatika Project is an interdisciplinary experimental performance residency bringing together theatre director Zuleikha Chaudhary, visual artist Mithu Sen, dramaturge Kris Merken and documentary filmmaker Shilpi Gulati to work together on a performance of Sudraka’s iconic Sanskrit play Mrichhakatika (The Little Clay Cart).

Is it possible to think of a performance without stepping into the familiar framework of a play?

A theatre director, a dramaturge, a visual artist and a documentary filmmaker come together for a month to work on an experimental performance project, with the central text of Mrichhakatika, a Sanskrit play written by Sudraka, an ancient playwright generally thought to have lived sometime between the third century BC and the fifth century AD.

The text itself has been presented and represented numerous times, on stage, on screen and elsewhere, often foregrounding the central love story between the impoverished Brahmin Charudutt and the wealthy courtesan Vasantasena as the tale of triumphant erotic love. Other parts of the text include intriguing characters of the jewel thief, a court case, a scene of murder and a minor plot of insurrection and rebellion. In this project, the text is read and discussed, focussing on some of the lesser-known subplots and the social, economic and jurisprudential insights they provide within the framework of a play-text.

Within the studio spaces of Khoj, a garden has been created to recreate the scene of the crime within the play, echoing a forensic investigation, not only of the plot of the play but of the idea of performance itself, exposing the work of acting and representation. The garden is also a utopia, the mis-en-scene of contemporary performances that radically move away from the binary relationship between the performer and the viewer.

As a parallel plot, the whole project has been archived as personal testimonies of the archivist, pointing at the challenges of documenting and archiving a performance process for posterity, beyond the obvious documentary tools of video, audio, writing and images.

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