Bringing Akkai Padmashali’s life on stage

The one-woman act, performed by Nayana Sooda and directed by Belur Raghunandan, will be on the transgender activist’s autobiography, writes Nina C George
Last Updated 25 February 2022, 18:30 IST

Bengaluru-based transgender activist and author Akkai Padmashali’s autobiography, ‘Akkai - Karunegondu Savalu’, which was released in December has been adapted into a play. The one-woman act, directed by Dr Belur Raghunandan and performed by Nayana Sooda, will be staged at Ravindra Kalakshetra in Bengaluru on March 6.

What inspired Belur to adapt the book into a play? Belur’s interest in discussing issues related to the members of the sexual minority communities goes back many years. “I was moved when I read Akkai’s book. I understood the pain, trauma, humiliation and abuse that she faced from her family, community and society at large. I have known Akkai for a long time, but there were instances in her life that I didn’t know about till I read the book,” Belur tells ‘Showtime’.

Belur also wanted to popularise Akkai’s efforts to shatter stereotypes and work towards achieving a more inclusive society. “She has worked very hard to get to where she is today. Her efforts have not only alleviated her sufferings but also instilled hope and confidence in the members of her community to fight for their rights. It is no easy task but Akkai has ignited the lives of many through her work. This is what will be reflected in the play,” explains Belur.

In an attempt to try a different tone and tenor, Belur decided to cast a woman, instead of a male to essay the role of a transgender. Belur chose Nayana Sooda to essay the part of Akkai.

Nayana, who has been in Kannada theatre for over two decades, will perform this one-woman act where she will not only be portraying Akkai’s character, but other characters mentioned in the book. “It is quite challenging because essaying the role of a man transitioning into a woman does not come easily to women. Nayana does not imitate Akkai, but portrays the character in her own style. She infuses new life into the character,” says Belur.

Akkai is thrilled that Nayana is playing her part. “I sat through a few rehearsals and I was amazed to see how quickly Nayana switches from one character to another. At one point she’s my father and in a second she becomes a cop and so on. She has not only grasped the subject very well. She has portrayed the emotions perfectly. She has interpreted my life so well,” Akkai tells ‘Showtime.’

Nayana Sooda says this is the first time that she is performing a variety of roles in one play “Portraying Akkai’s life has been challenging in terms of handling the transition of characters. She was born as a boy and her transformation into a girl and later a woman had to be brought out to perfection. It required more mental preparation to get under the skin of each of the characters-- cops, Akkai’s parents and teachers, Hijra Nayaka from the transgender community and society at large,” explains Nayana.

Akkai, who has been attending the play rehearsals, says Nayana has interpreted the character very well. “Instead of building sympathy around the transgenders, Nayana has looked at how, through my struggles, I unleashed a movement of sorts to bring about a sense of inclusivity among the members of the transgender community. She has, through brilliant voice modulation and expression, captured the pain, harassment, shocking happenings in a transgender’s life. Nayana read my book and studied my body language and character thoroughly before venturing into this play,” explains Akkai.

The music is by Rajaguru, makeup by Jayaraj Huskur and lighting by M G Naveen. The play will be staged on March 6 at 6 pm at Ravindra Kalakshetra.

(Published 25 February 2022, 17:55 IST)

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