TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland

18/05/2012 - 27/05/2012

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

17/10/2013 - 26/10/2013

Production Details

Performed in English, this gritty new play by the Auckland Indian group Prayas deals with some of India’s most potent social issues; caste and the role and place of women in Indian society.

Rudali-the Mourner is set in the village of Tohri in Eastern India – although it could easily be any rural community in India, or even any place else – where powerful men exploit women: the wife, the neighbour and the local prostitute.

In Tohri, as in many places, women of a lower caste are hired as mourners upon the death of rich upper-caste males. A Rudali (rou-daali) is paid to grieve aloud publicly so the family of the dead retain their upper caste dignity befitting their social status. 

Sanichari is mother-in-law to a beautiful and feisty woman who certainly does not accept her place or fate and sets out to defy the village rules. Around them in the village are a host of lively characters, from caring and conniving neighbours, a long lost friend, the comic village priest, ruthless landlords, some brazen prostitutes and a wickedly endearing old nag.

Together, they weave a story of friendship, treachery, greed, lust and duplicity around the unusual business of ‘Rudali professional female mourners. Sanichari ultimately becomes an icon of empowerment for tribal low-caste women.

With Cook Islander Patricia Wichman in the lead, multi-cultural group Prayas have gone outside Auckland’s growing Indian community to come up with a multi-ethnic cast and crew.

“It is a brave play, and it is challenging for Prayas as it deals with some of the harsher issues that India faces” – Amit Ohdedar, President Prayas 

Rudali-the Mourner is based on the short story in Bengali by Mahasweta Devi. Of her faith in the downtrodden, she has said the following: “The reason and inspiration for my writing are those people who are exploited and used, and yet do not accept defeat.”

Co-directed by Amit Ohdedar, Prayas Cultural Group and Margaret Mary Hollins, TAPAC the show explores serious issues in entertaining and engaging formats Rudali-the Mourner will showcase Indian folk music with a live orchestra, colourful dances and a vibrant village carnival.

Rudali-the Mourner,
May 18 -27, 2012,
TAPAC, 100 Motions Road, Western Springs, Auckland.
Book tickets at TAPAC website
or phone TAPAC (09) 845 0295.

Not recommended for children. Contains adult themes and offensive language.  

Rudali is also being staged during 2013’s Auckland Diwali festival on 19 and 20 October

October 17th – 26th 2013, 8pm (except Sunday 20th at 3pm)
Herald Theatre, THE EDGE®, Mayoral Drive, Auckland
Tickets: $ 25 and $ 20 for concessions 
Rating: 13yrs +
Bookings: or 0800 BUY TICKETS 
Duration: I hr. 15min – no interval, contains offensive language 

More information about Prayas available at   

Patricia Vichmann as Sanichari
Monica Mahendru as Bikhni
Anya Banerjee as Parbatia

Shilpi Pillai, Monica Nangia, Sangeeta Hariharan, Madhumita Chatterjee, Nona Shedde, Sudeepta Vyas, Mala Bhaduri, Lucy Xia, Sangeeta Gupta, Ditoya Ghosh, Abbas Burmawala, Ram Manthry, Dilbagh Singh, Gaurav Bradoo, Vijesh Nangia, Dhrupad Siddhanta, Rahul Chopra, Shibashish Dutta Chowdhury, Murali Kumar.

Creative Design:  Bhavnesh Soni
Still & Videography:  Bhavnesh Soni, Michael Field
Costume and make up:  Padma Akula, Monica Mahendru
Dance Choreography:  Rahul Chopra
Vocalist:  Moushumi Das
Band:  Kim Gruebner, Vidhit Naik, Ahi Karunaharan
Sets & Props:  Jessika Verryt
Lighting Design:  Rachel Marlow
Technician:  Michael Craven

Stage Manager:  Kanchan Bandyopadhyay
Production Assistance:   Sachin Purohit, Rohit Chauhan, Shiksha Sridhar
Publicity Management:  Kristina Hard
Marketing:  Nilanjan Ghoshal
Website:  Gaurav Bradoo

Produced by  Sudeepta Vyas
Assisted by  Satya Akula, Zetin Moza 

1 hr 15 mins, no interval

Shared Tears

Review by James Wenley 21st Oct 2013

Tragedy hovers over low-caste Sanichari. She has lost her husband, and as her play begins, her son lies painfully weak and in an agony of coughing. She will lose much more as the play continues: the characters that surround her – her blind mother, he daughter-in-law, and her young grandson – will too depart for various reasons. Sanichari, was born on an unlucky day, fated to devour those that surround her, and ultimately, she’s told, “will devour yourself”.

From our vantage point she devours through no fault of her own, but the card that circumstance deals. As played by Patricia Wichman, Sanichari is one of the most vivid characters you could meet in theatre this year: selfless and resilient, her daily tasks are focussed on the survival of herself and her family, with little time for anything else. [More


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Believable yet stylised world kept in sharp, crisp, snappy focus and rhythm

Review by Stephen Austin 18th Oct 2013

Prayas Theatre presents devised Indian theatre in a modern environment to New Zealand audiences in the hope of adding a richness and depth to the local scene and inviting an exchange of ideas from their culture to broaden understanding.  With Rudali The Mourner they have, for the most part, succeeded in making something that will engage and enlighten; that speaks to and celebrates a sadness universal to us all. 

Sanichari (Patricia Wichman) is a pragmatic soul, having faced many hardships and misfortunes in her life.  When her son is accidentally killed by his thoughtless, selfish wife, she reacts as a scornful mother should, but never sheds a tear for the loss of her son, instead burying herself in the obligations of organising others to perform their duties in mourning. 

Years later, still facing hardship and at her financial wits end, she meets an old friend who convinces her to turn to the profession of Rudali: professional mourners beat their breasts and wail for the dead at funerals as the upper-caste of society must retain their composure in public. 

Sanicahri is sceptical that this sort of world would be for her, but soon realises her own griefs can help her make a stand against the powerful, affect change of those around her and empower the other women of the town.  

This is a huge cast production – especially for a space like The Herald Theatre – and it is great to see that each and every performer is well drilled and super focussed on their individual roles as well as the tight rhythmic choreography driving the central core of the work. 

As far as my European eye can tell, this is all highly traditional in its presentation.  Simple setting in the black space on a sandy coloured floor, with sparse props and dressing – a multi-purpose bed/screen, an urn in which a few items are kept, a few other pieces of ephemera here and there – but we are surrounded by colour, sound, movement and rich texture from the moment the performance begins until its tragically heartfelt ending, all created by this group of enthusiastic actors. They enjoy bringing us a wonderfully tasty story with as much conviction, humour and guts as they can muster. 

Some deliveries may be a bit broader and coarser than others, but that helps to build a believable, yet stylised, world of this small Indian town and gives us some nice comedic respite from the darker moments.  It is a real credit to directors Amit Ohdedar and Ahilan Karunaharan that they keep a sharp, crisp, snappy sense of focus and rhythm to most of the performance with so much to look at and think about in many scenes, without any un-wanted upstaging or clunky blocking.

At the heart of the piece, Patricia Wichman delivers a strong, wilful, gracious personality in Sanichari.  So grounded, giving and absolutely present in each moment, Wichman’s abject understanding – physically, vocally and emotionally – of a culture not quite her own is fantastic.  We are absolutely with her in the later moments when she breaks down in tears as the events of her own life catch up with her, bringing her the strength to fight the powers, both within and without, that are bringing her down in the present. 

A small traditional band of musicians are seated stage left throughout and create vivid, profound underscoring and punctuation to drive the work.  Light touches on the tabala to heighten dramatic and comedic moments subtly keep us aware of intention and the sounds created by all wrap us in a welcoming sense of playfulness even before the play has started. 

I had not come into contact with Prayas before this show and will now follow their work closely in the future, as theirs is a strong voice from a rapidly growing part of the New Zealand cultural landscape. 

I highly respect this company for retaining so much of the traditional culture in their performance and for introducing audiences to the somewhat new cultural concept of ‘professional mourning’ in such a way.  This is most certainly a play to be savoured.


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Petty hatred and abuse vie with humour and vitality

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 23rd May 2012

Prayas has established an authentic community based theatre that offers a rare opportunity to experience the vigorous folk culture that sustains India’s performance traditions.

This hard-hitting adaptation of a contemporary Bengali novel reminds us of the on-going struggle for social justice in India while providing a sharp antidote to the frothy fantasies of Bollywood. [More


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Tragi-comic look at the roles and struggles of women in Indian society

Review by Aidan-B. Howard 19th May 2012

Having previously reviewed Prayas’ light-hearted Kingdom of Cards (Tasher Desh) for this site, I take the opportunity to see how they will cope doing a play at the other end of the spectrum. This is Rudali, The Mourner.

The basic storyline is that a woman, Sanichari (Patricia Vichmann), lives with her mother-in-law, her son, her daughter-in-law Parbatia (Ananya Banerjee) and her grandson Budhua. When the son dies, Parbatia abandons the old woman and her own son for the ‘high’ life of prostitution.  

Eventually Budhua, pretty much a rascal, leaves to spend all of his time with the magicians and clowns in the market. Sanichari re-unites with an old childhood friend, Bikhni (Monica Mahendru), who moves in to make life easier for the two. It is here that they are convinced to become rudali, the uniquely Indian occupation of the ‘professional mourner’.

You see, it seems that the ‘upwardly mobile’ class in India are so concerned with image that the idea of a cremation with no one to wail over the body is simply horrifying, so they literally hire women, even strangers and prostitutes, to mourn over the deceased. These rudali are afforded the respect of being compensated with money, food, shelter and clothing.

Now, this particular aspect of the play is not so important: in fact it takes up only a small portion of it near the end. The play is really about the roles and struggles of women in Indian society, and the Prayas troupe deals with this issue with a considerable amount of sensitivity and awareness.

While men may control their society in an administrative way, women seem to be the centre of the dynamic life of the society, and Mahasweta Devi [the Bengali writer who wrote the story the play is based on] captures this very well. And like any good writer, she blends the tragic with just the right amount of the comic.

Rudali the Mourner also seems to ask the pretty obvious question: who will mourn for us when we finally go? It also deals with the issue of salvation and forgiveness: the prostitutes are ‘saved’ by being offered a better and more lucrative job; Sanichari is ‘saved’ by the arrival of her childhood friend; the errant and selfish Parbatia is ‘saved’ when the hard-edged and world-worn Sanichari opens her arms in a final embrace of forgiveness and strength.

Technically this is quite a difficult play for co-directors Amit Ohdedar and Margaret Mary Hollins, despite the scarceness of props and set design. Often there are as many as twenty different characters on stage at a time. In earlier household scenes this is a little raucous, and at times the main dialogue cannot be clearly heard for the background noise. But the more complex market scenes are surprisingly well choreographed, almost balletic. And of course no Indian director worth their stipend could possibly resist the obligatory ‘Bollywood’ dance scene in the middle: a delightful treat! 

While the acting of the three main women (Vichmann, Banerjee and Mahendru) is very good and keeps up the dynamics of the play, they are supported by a very competent assortment of secondary characters.

I must, however, include a cautionary note here. Some westerners will find the acting a little ‘ham’, a little ‘over the top’; but we have to step back and remember that this highly stylised speech and movement and gesture is what gives Indian theatre the trademark for which it is known. It is really up to us to adapt to the performance, not the other way around. In fact, I am sure that we would be disappointed if we saw an Indian play acted like Tennessee Williams or such.

Rudali is enhanced by a very entertaining musical quartet, using such classical Indian instruments as the vioin and the piano: an interesting hybrid of the eastern and the western, which at times is haunting and at times simply full of mirth.

It is certainly a sign of how popular and well supported Prayas has become that a Friday opening night is also a full house. What I get from this production is that when comparing it with Kingdom of Cards, this is a troupe that likes to have fun, regardless of the subject matter. They are passionate about their “community theatre”, as one of the directors put it, and want you to leave with the same sense of enjoyment as any other ninety-minute entertainment you may have chosen. I think that they succeeded. 


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