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The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Vibrant Colors Collective’s ‘Shikhandi’ to reenact origin of first nonbinary Indian myth figure

Courtesy of Misha Oberoi
The “Shikhandi” cast drew on their unique talents, improvisation exercises and games to develop their characters.

When Communication and Weinberg senior Mantra Radhakrishnan saw the play “Shikhandi” in Bengaluru, India, where she grew up, she was struck by its comedic retelling of the origin of Indian mythology’s first gender-nonconforming figure.

This weekend, seven years after that first viewing, Radhakrishnan will direct their version of the show with Vibrant Colors Collective, Northwestern’s multicultural theatre board, for their final performance at NU.

“Shikhandi” will be different from anything performed in Shanley Pavilion, Radhakrishnan said.

“Even for the kind of work that happens in India, it was very unique,” she said. “I hope that people are intrigued by this mythological world.”

“Shikhandi” focuses on Amba, a side character in the Indian epic the Mahābhārata. Gods tell Amba that in her next life she can kill the evil leader Bhishma who, according to a divine gift, no man nor woman can kill.

Amba is then reincarnated as female-born and male-raised Shikhandi, who struggles with their gender until realizing their nonconformity is the key to slaying Bhishma.

“This whole thing revolves around this struggle of Shikhandi labeling themselves and struggling to find their identity,” Radhakrishnan said. “The underlying message is: ‘Whatever you are, whoever you are, it’s for a greater purpose.’”

Radhakrishnan said Shikhandi’s pronouns switch by line as a “bit,” aligning with how the show conveys its theme through comedy.

Weinberg freshman Tazwaar Ahmed, who will wear spiked shoulder pads to play Bhishma, said he hopes the audience can “enjoy the goofiness.”

Ahmed interprets his misogynistic character as a disruptive misfit who is scared of women, which he conveys by acting increasingly self-conscious as his lines progress.

“I really want viewers to see through this funny story how powerful it is when you have people who accept you,” he said.

Radhakrishnan said she encouraged the cast members to incorporate their unique skills, like drumming and dancing, into the show. Communication freshman Zakariah Massoud will both organize props and play the violin for background sounds, including traditional and popular Indian music.

Massoud said they are excited for the show to come together, especially since it was “crafted by the culture that it represents.”

By incorporating the styles of each cast member, most of whom are South Asian, Radhakrishnan said, they hope to center non-Western queerness.

“Something I’m generally interrogating in my work as a director and a playwright is: How do I strive to tell my culturally specific stories while also acknowledging that, if I’m here, I am presenting them and writing them for an American audience?” Radhakrishnan said.

VC2’s “Shikhandi” will differ from the play Radhakrishnan saw in India, she said. The playwright, Faezeh Jalali, designed the script so that each performance is unique with instructions like, “This happens in whatever form the actors and director want,” according to Radhakrishnan.

Rather than relying on the script for instructions, the seven-person cast developed the show’s material with improvisation and acting games. The show will also feature interactive elements with the audience.

“I’m really happy that we have a cast that’s diverse within itself, not just diverse in contrast to whiteness,” Radhakrishnan said.

Though the cast rehearsed for nine to 15 hours each week of the quarter, Radhakrishnan said they are “excited for things to go wrong,” which they said will “certainly” happen due to the play’s loose structure which will call on the cast to improvise.

The 75-minute-long play will be in Shanley on Friday at 7 and 10 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m.

Email: [email protected]
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