Posing as a mourner
Have you ever wondered how to keep up appearances when you're dead?
It's not an unusual thought in the Tori region of India where a caste-system exists.
Professional mourners, typically lower caste women, known as Rudali are hired by upper caste families to pose as mourners.
Their job is to grieve loudly and openly at the funerals as a way of giving the dead and their families some dignity.
This was all news to Henderson actress Patricia Vichmann.
The 38-year-old plays the protagonist Sunichari in theatre show Rudali the Mourner as part of the Diwali Festival.
She says she's an open-minded person who wasn't too surprised to hear of the profession but still found it an interesting concept.
"It's a display of ‘look at the status of this person' and yet the people who are grieving for them probably don't know who this person is."
Ms Vichmann is of Rarotongan, Tahitian, Chinese and German descent but she's embraced Indian culture since joining the Indian theatre company Prayas Theatre Group in 2009.
This is the second time she's played the role of Sanichari, just one of a big multi-cultural cast of performers from India, Malaysia, Samoa, Sri Lanka and the Cook Islands.
The second time around is easier for Ms Vichmann who says she's still learning Hindi terms and what they mean.
"The first time I felt like I wasn't quite doing the role justice," she says.
"Now I wonder why I didn't ask more questions the first time around because now I know the true context behind what I'm saying.
"The first time I was doing the basics, now I'm digging deeper."
Performing the play has been a learning curve for the Henderson resident who says many people have preconceived notions about Indian culture.
She is guilty herself of stereotyping them, she says.
She hopes western audiences will come along and learn something new.
"It's like when you have an idea about someone and then you meet them and realise that everything out the window and realise it's not correct."
"It's not just about hearing it, it's more of a visceral experience, it will encompass everything," she says.
Rudali the Mourner is at the Herald Theatre from now until October 26. Visit ticketmaster.co.nz.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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