Ms. Sohini Pillai
Specialization: Theatre Studies
Home institution in US: Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts
Host Institution in India: Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi  
Start date/Month in India: August 2012
Duration of grant: 9 months

Brief Bio:
Ms. Sohini Pillai has always been fascinated by religious stories and the performing arts of South Asia. She pursued her undergraduate studies at Wellesley College, where she double-majored in South Asia studies and theatre studies. Her senior honors thesis on the play Final Solutions by Mahesh Dattani explored how the medium of theatre can be used to promote ideas of religious pluralism in South Asia. Her thesis built on ethnographic research she conducted in 2010 during a semester abroad in New Delhi at the School for International Training’s National Identity and the Arts Program. Ms. Pillai has conducted research at the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, Massachusetts on the history of South Asian religious traditions in the U.S., and in the Anthropology Department at Wellesley College on the connection between film and television media and religion in India. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a 2012 Wellesley College Trustee Scholar who has received several awards and grants.

Ms. Pillai is also a Bharatanatyam and Manipuri dancer, drummer, dramaturge and playwright. Her latest play, Tridevi, is about three women in contemporary India who are reincarnations of Hindu goddesses. Upon completion of her Fulbright-Nehru grant, Ms. Pillai plans to pursue an academic career in which she will explore, as a scholar and playwright, how the performing arts can promote interfaith dialogue.

Ms. Pillai’s Fulbright research project, “The Ramayana as Theater: From Ramlila to Rock Musicals in India,” will explore how the performing arts in India, specifically different theatrical versions of the ancient epic poem The Ramayana, can promote positive messages of pluralism and harmony. The performances she plans to research range from the traditional Ramlila theatre in Delhi to an innovative Bharatanatyam dance-drama to a rock-musical combining Indian folk dance and theatre forms with salsa, ballet, jazz and Shakespeare. Ms. Pillai will conduct this research under the mentorship of Prof. Bishnupriya Dutt at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.