South African director Tina Johnson, who is directing a modern-day take on Draupadi of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, says she sees the queen of the five Pandava brothers as a Greek heroine. She adds that all women "have a bit of Draupadi in them".
"She is a Greek heroine who suffers tragedy and comes out stronger. She is angry, humiliated and is an archetypal wronged woman seeking justice," Johnson, who is directing the Indian play Draupadi: We are no different now, said.
The play is being produced by Odissi dancer, actress and compere Shivani Wazir Pasrich and the weeklong production will be staged March 19-26 at the Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi.
The play comprising a cast of seven is a modern-day adaptation of Draupadi's episodes in the Mahabharata. The epic heroine is portrayed in two avatars: a young woman struck by personal grief and an aging matron.
Draupadi, feels Johnson, shares more similarities with "South African women than American women".
"But all women have a bit of Draupadi in them. It is complicated experiment. We are trying to create a character who is humiliated in modern times - juxtaposed against the ancient Draupadi. There are 15 stories woven around around two women," said Johnson.
The play, says Johnson, centres around Maaya.
"The young woman comes to know that her fiance, a sculptor, is burnt to death. She tries to kill herself, but an older woman Draupadi stops her," she says.
In return, Draupadi demands a favour. Maaya wavers and is unable to deliver. Soon the events in Maaya's life shows "an uncanny resemblance to the events in Draupadi's life".
This is not Johnson's first "woman-oriented" play.
"I had directed a play on a community in Cape Town known as the 'coloured community' comprising Portuguese, African and White people. The play, A Coloured Place, was about women. But Draupadi has a different context," she said.
Tina Johnson has worked in New York City, Johannesburg and Cape Town at the Market Theatre and the Baxter Theatre. Her plays include Hamlet, Lysistrata, the Coolie Odyssey, Itsoseng and Out of Bounds.
Itsoseng and Out of Bounds topped the jury's list at the Edinburg Theatre Festival. She has trained actors, directors and worked as mentor for university students at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival and served as the deputy chair at the Gauteng Theatre Practitioners.
The director feels interpreting Draupadi is "difficult because of the complexities of the emotions involved".
"I have read the Mahabharata...though mostly the children's version in English...," she said.
Johnson's Draupadi... has an impressive "behind-the-scene" crew.
Veteran artist Anjolie Ela Menon has conceived the artistic backdrop of the play, which includes the two faces of Draupadi that serve as the artistic leitmotifs on the T-shirts and the layered clothes that ace designer Ritu Kumar is creating for the cast. While one of the faces is dark and poignant, the other is young and innocent.
Shubha Mudgal is setting the score and period designer Aman Nath is creating the heritage stage.
"It will be an intimate one-and-a-half hour drama heavy with dialogues. But the drift is modern and characters speak an everyday language - like the way we speak. The play can be best described as revenge versus resilience," Shivani Wazir Pasrich, who plays one of the leading ladies, said.
Pasrich had co-produced the grand opera, Karna with Farrukh Dhondy with Varsha Bedi in 2008.