Samdani Art Foundation
10-Zuleikha Chaudhari_performance.jpg



Zuleikha Chaudhuri's Rehearsing the Witness: The Bhawal Court Case, revisits the historical court case around the Bhawal zamindari estate in Dhaka which ran between 1930-1946.


PERFORMANCE  |  3 February 2018, 10.00AM


Both theatre and citizenship are performed practices; one's performance as a citizen is either applauded or fails to live up-to expectations. To live with these conditions is to always be on trial and to know that in the eyes of the examining authority one is always an imposter unless proved otherwise. Zuleikha Chaudhuri's Rehearsing the Witness: The Bhawal Court Case, revisits the historical court case around the Bhawal zamindari estate in Dhaka which ran between 1930-1946. She has staged previous iterations of the work at the Mumbai Art Room, as a '"rehearsal as exhibition", and at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, focusing on the production of a portrait by an actor. The performance at DAS at 10am on February 3rd in the auditiorium takes the form of a trial using some of the original evidence from the case. This project pulls together strands of thought from the previous iterations when moving to the "scene of the crime" in Dhaka, drawing a relationship between re-enactment and retrial; the complex tension between forensic evidence, the act of speculation/imagination and truth finding and truth making.

The Bhawal Court Case takes as its point of departure a trial which revolved around the identity of a sanyasi (or Hindu religious ascetic) claiming to be the second Kumar of Bhawal (the heir of one of the last large zamindari estates in Dhaka), who was presumed dead a decade earlier. The claim was contested by the British Court of Wards and by the widow of Ramendra Narayan Roy (the second Kumar of Bhawal) Bibhabati Devi.

Over the course of sixteen years, the physical attributes, birthmarks, portraits and testimony were collated as forensic evidence to establish the claimant/sanyasi's identity as being the Kumar. Hundreds of witnesses, including doctors, photographers, artists, prostitutes, peasants, revenue collectors, tenants, holy men, magistrates, handwriting experts, relatives and passers--by were deposed. The case went from the District Court in Dhaka to the High Court of Calcutta to the Privy Council in London, finally ending in 1946 with a victory for the plaintiff, who died a few days after the verdict.

Rehearsing the Witness: The Bhawal Court Case uses this trial about a possible impostor to re-examine the enormous archive that the case produced, through performance as a means to reconsider notions of evidence, the archive and identity. Both the domains of the law and theatre/acting frame larger questions that pertain to the production of truth and reality, assumptions of stable, consistent and believable identities and the construction of a credible narrative. It examines how identity is written into history and emerges in the domain of the law, often in opposition to the actual complexity of lived-experiences and relationships. The manner in which the State, here the British Court of Wards, one of the parties in the Bhawal case, considers identity is a central question, explored through the testimony of expert witnesses on the body as evidence (and as the site where identity is played out), in comparison to where the individual locates it.


Judge: Anita Rahaman Ghazi
Lawyer: Jyotirmoy Barua
Lawyer: Aneek R. Haque
Expert Witness 1: Shahidul Alam (Artist and Writer) as J. L. Winterton (Artist and Photographer.Plaintiff's witness No.778)
Expert Witness 2: Dr Nandini Chatterjee, (Senior Lecturer in history, University of Exeter, UK.) as J.H. Lindsay (Retired ICS, Secretary of the School of Oriental Studies in London, and former Collector of Dacca. Defendant's witness, taken on commission)
Expert Witness 3: Rahaab Allana (Curator, Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, New Delhi) as Percy Brown (Artist, Secretary and Curator of the Victoria Memorial Hall, Calcutta. Defendant's witness No.8)
Expert Witness 4: Ahona Palchoudhuri (Department of Anthropology, Brown University) as Bawa Dharam Das (Defendant's witness No 327).
Expert Witness 5: Samina Luthfa (Sociologist and actor) as Bibhabati Debi (Defendant No. l. Widow of the second Kumar of Bhawal)
Expert Witness 6: Oroon Das (Actor) and Arup Rahee (Performer, activist, and writer with The Centre for Bangladesh Studies) as Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy (Plaintiff) the second of the three Kumars, married to Bibhabati Debi.