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Playwright Sapan Saran and journalist Sharda Ugra discuss the research, characters and the real world stories behind ओट्टम और अन्य नाटक (The Race and other Plays) – a book of three plays. Of the three, there’s one called Ottam, that traces the life of Akai Amaran, a Pariyar girl from rural Tamil Nadu who battles caste and class barriers to become one of India’s leading track and field athletes as an 800 metres runner. Her arduous created world collapses when she is asked to undertake a gender test, which she fails.
The questions of gender and sex that govern our everyday existence become most apparent in the field of sport where the body is on display for anyone who wishes to dissect it. Akai’s existence, further highlighted by her victories, poses a challenge to socially established binary models supported and perpetuated by those governing international athletics, the media, internet trolls, and even her own extended family.
The play questions the role of science and society in the construction and/or maintenance of such models. A parallel sociological narrative urges us to look at sex and gender in a more nuanced way as the unstoppable Akai fights to win the race she started – the race that can only be won by the spirit of human progress.
In Akai’s words : “In any race, what’s of utmost importance is …to go on running! Ottam!”
In collaboration with Sandbox Collective as part of Gender Bender 2023
Sapan Saran is a poet, writer & director based in Mumbai. She is the co-founder of the theatre company, Tamaasha Theatre. Tamaasha has worked extensively on exploring and extending alternative performance spaces, and supporting the theatre ecosystem in Mumbai. Sapan also runs Studio Tamaasha, an intimate curated performing arts centre in Mumbai. In 2017 she was invited by the National Theatre of Wales to participate as a collaborating artist/writer on a one year long project on the lives of South Asian women – their histories and experiences. She is a recipient of the Tendulkar-Dubey Fellowship, 2018 given to promising young theatre practitioners.
Sharda Ugra spent more than three decades in sports journalism, working with Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day, national daily The Hindu, India Today magazine and ESPNcricinfo and ESPN India.
During this time, she has written and spoken about issues around Indian sport at home and abroad in popular and academic publications.
She worked with former New Zealand captain John Wright on John Wright’s Indian Summers, his memoirs of his years coaching India and with Yuvraj Singh on The Test of My Life, an account of his diagnosis and recovery from cancer. She was a fellow of the Australia India Institute, University of Melbourne in 2013. Having finally left the formal workforce, she believes she is just getting started.