Pratha Nagpal's Play 'Aurat Raj' 'Started As A Work Of Curiosity'... It's Now So Much More

"I was curious to understand the relationship women have with their labour in South Asian cultures."

Aurat Raj by Prabha Nagpal

From Nayika (A Dancing Girl) to Ānanda: Dance of Joy, there are various South Asian stories being told on Australian stages as of late. Aurat Raj is the latest to debut at Belvoir St Theatre (Downstairs Theatre) in Sydney this week, and with the same name as the Pakistani feminist film of 1979, this production also explores women and their connection with culture, identity and labour.

Director Pratha Nagpal was born in Delhi before she and her family migrated to Australia in 2015. She says she turned to the lived experience of those around her to carve out the vision for this production.

"Aurat Raj started as a work of curiosity – I was curious to understand the relationship women have with their labour in South Asian cultures," Nagpal tells Draw Your Box.

"I saw the women of my family on a trip back to India and saw their place in our society. It made me wonder how labour is deeply tied to culture and made me question what culture asks of our women.

"Sometimes it feels like women are both disposable but indispensable too – this dichotomy of our necessity in culture. That's where the work was born."

The four women cast in the show are Nikki Sekar, Vinaya Elijala, Anusha Thomas and Kirthihaa Veluppillai.

Nagpal's theatrical works are often inspired by BIPOC stories. After completing her arts degree at the University of Sydney and a Master of Fine Arts (Directing) at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), the director has gone on to create plays such as Maa Ki Rasoi – My Mother’s Kitchen (which has shown three times), as well as Kali, a movement-focused piece using Bharatanatyam to explore female rage.

With a two-week stint for its world premiere in Sydney, Aurat Raj aims to not only entertain showgoers – South Asian audiences and beyond – but also have them thinking and reevaluating what it means to be a woman, and how culture plays a role in that. Ultimately, it's to encourage us "to examine the weight of upholding culture and the people who bear that weight".

"It now exists as a movement work that captures the exhaustive nature of labour," says Nagpal, "and aims to invite audiences to understand (challenge even!) what we define culture to be."

Aurat Raj is showing at Belvoir St Theatre (Downstairs Theatre) from May 2 to May 19. Ticket details are available here.