How different would a feminist Ramayana be? A dance production finds out | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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How different would a feminist Ramayana be? A dance production finds out

Four Indian classical dancers come together to retell the Ramayana; this time, from the women’s perspective

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Oct 14, 2016 16:15 IST
Nidhi Choksi
Uma Dogra and troupe during a kathak performance at NCPA
Uma Dogra and troupe during a kathak performance at NCPA (Photo courtesy: NCPA)

Four Indian classical dancers come together to retell the Ramayana; this time, from the women’s perspective

When you think of the Ramayana, the agency lies with the men — Ram and his exile, Ravan abducting Sita, or Lakshman and Bharat’s brotherly love. We’ve always been told the tale with the men as protagonists, through their point of view. But what happens when we focus on the story from women’s perspective? A premiering dance production, Tejasa — Women of Ramayana, tells the stories of four women from the Ramayana: Sita, Kaikeyi, Surpanakha and Mandodari, through various Indian classical dances.

The production is directed and conceptualised by Padma Shri-winning Odissi dancer, Ranjana Gauhar, who also plays the role of Sita. It includes dancers such as Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Uma Dogra (as Kaikeyi) performing Kathak, Mohiniyattam exponent Gopika Varma (as Surpankha), and Deepika Reddy (as Mandodari) performing Kuchipudi.

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Dogra is a Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee and has been performing kathak for the last four decades. (Photos courtesy: NCPA)

“Ramayana would have been a dull story without its women. But nobody gave them an independent voice in any version of the epic,” says 59-year-old Dogra. The Kathak dancer has been practising the form for the last four decades.

“Kaikeyi pitching for Bharat as king was a key point in the story. But not many know the reason behind it,” Dogra says about the character she plays. The reason, she believes, was that king Dasaratha had married Kaikeyi only because he wanted a child from her. Kaikeyi’s father agreed to the marriage on the condition that Dasaratha would make their future son the king. “It was only fair for her to ask for Bharat to be crowned king,” says the dancer, who believes Kaikeyi’s character is often misrepresented.

Dogra chose to play the part of Kaikeyi as she was fascinated with her. (Photos courtesy: NCPA)

When the script was discussed, Dogra chose to play the part of Kaikeyi as it fascinated her. This is not Dogra’s first brush with the Ramayana. As a teenager, she had played the role of Mandodari (Ravan’s wife) in Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra’s Ramlila in Delhi, she recalls.

“I was too young then to play Kaikeyi’s part as it required a certain level of maturity. But her character would move me,” she says. Dogra has taken reference from Ramcharitmanas (an ancient poem on the Ramayana), by Tulsidas, to explain her character better in the narration. Along with her co-dancers, she also read several versions of the epic, from Nepal and Taiwan, to understand the story and characters in depth.

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Even though each of the dancers choreographed their bits individually, the rehearsals and reading sessions of the script were held jointly. “It is a well-researched piece and not our interpretation of the story,” says Dogra.

Be there: Tejasa — Women of Ramayana will be staged on October 20, 7pm
Where: Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point
Tickets: Rs 400 onward on bookmyshow.com/event