Rehearsing the Witness: The Bhawal Court Case

18 December 2015 - 20 February 2016

A project by Zuleikha Chaudhari


With Prayas Abhinav, Sabih Ahmed, Saif Ali, Akeel Bilgrami, Philippe Calia, Kelly Dhru, Başak Ertür, Malavika Jayaraman, Dheer Kaku, Shivam Pradhan, Mallika Taneja, Avi Singh, Bhrigupati Singh, Mayur Suresh and others. 

About the exhibition


The project explores the idea of rehearsal-as-exhibition. A rehearsal is typically an act of repetition. During a rehearsal, an actor is engaged in the production of a portrait, an image of a self. The repetition is in order to create the real, a believable real.


The exhibition draws on material from the Bhawal case, an elongated court trial which revolved around the identity of a wayfaring sannyasi – or Hindu religious ascetic – rumoured to be the heir of one of the last great zamindari estates near Dhaka, in East Bengal, now modern Bangladesh. The project was instigated by an album of about 90 photographs – mainly portraits of the young kumar and the older plaintiff – that were submitted as evidence to establish likeness, and uses depositions and cross examinations from the original trial as scripts for a performance. In a court of law, one’s testimony bears the burden of proving one’s self, of convincing the judge that you are who you say you are.  In relation to this, and through the process of re-enactment, the exhibition investigates the audition and the rehearsal as a space where being oneself and being someone else merge, where telling the truth and faking it become indistinguishable. 


Call for Auditions


20 – 23 December 2015, 4 – 7pm

6 – 9 January 2016, 2 – 5pm


We are looking for actors, lawyers, photographers, artists, doctors, forensic experts and others. The audition is the site where the show takes place, and auditioning is in fact a way to view it. To book a slot, please email


Exhibition Schedule

All events, including rehearsals and auditions, are open to an audience. 


Public Preview

17 December 2015, 7 - 9:30pm

with opening remarks by Zuleikha Chaudhari on performance and portraiture, and reflections by Akeel Bilgrami on identity, evidence and belief. 



18 – 19 December 2015, 3 – 8pm

20 – 23 December 2015, 12 – 3pm

with Prayas Abhinav, Saif Ali, Shivam Pradhan and Mallika Taneja



20 – 23 December 2015, 4 – 7pm

6 – 9 January 2016, 2 – 5pm


Expert Witnesses

6 January 2016, 5 – 7pm

Bhrigupati Singh and Mayur Suresh


7 January 2016, 5 – 7pm

Başak Ertür


9 January 2016, 3 – 7pm

Sabih Ahmed, Philippe Calia, Malavika Jayaraman and Avi Singh


About the Bhawal Case

The Bhawal case was an extended pre-independence Indian court case about a possible impostor claiming to be the second Kumar of Bhawal, Ramendra Narayan Roy, who was presumed dead a decade earlier. The claim was contested both by the British Court of Wards and by his widow, Bibhabati Devi. The case was on trial from 1930 to 1946. Over the course of sixteen years, the man’s physical attributes, birthmarks, portraits, testimonies and memory were put together as forensic evidence to establish his identity. Hundreds of witnesses, including doctors, photographers, revenue collectors, tenants, sadhus, magistrates, handwriting experts, relatives and passersby were deposed. The case went from the lower court in Dhaka to the high court in Calcutta to the Privy Council in London.


Funding and Support


The research and documentation of this project is supported by the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, with additional funding for public programming from Asia Society India Centre.