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Bharatnatyam danseuse defends Kaikeyi

Danseuse Geeta Chandran will try to portray the much-maligned mythological character in a positive light, in a new recital.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2006 12:38 IST
Ranjana Narayan (Indo-Asian News Service)
Ranjana Narayan (Indo-Asian News Service)

Was Kaikeyi just a selfish queen and heartless manipulator as most believe she was in the Indian epic Ramayana? No, says noted Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran who in her forthcoming performance will try to portray the much-maligned mythological character as a brave, beautiful and sensitive woman.

Geeta's performance, titled Kaikeyi, will be premiered in the capital on August 25 and 26 at New Delhi's Akshara Theatre.

Through an intermix of Bharatanatyam, martial art steps, including Chinese martial art forms, as well as theatre, Geeta has tried to "construct a compelling case in Kaikeyi's defence".

Bharatnatyam danseuse Geeta Chandran will portray Kaikeyi in a positive light.

Kaikeyi is the one who caused Rama, the eldest and favourite son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, to be banished for 14 long years to the forests because she wanted her own son Bharata to be king.

The third wife of Dasharatha and also his most beloved has always been shown as a scheming and selfish woman. In fact, no woman is named Kaikeyi.

But, says Geeta, Kaikeyi is actually a "brave, sensitive, accomplished and beautiful woman" and without her there would have been no Ramayana.

"Her character was one of struggle, of beauty, valour, sensuality and sensitivity. She was also insecure as she had been abandoned by her father when small. I have brought out all this through my dance," Geeta told IANS in an interview.

Kaikeyi, the daughter of Asvapati, the king of Kekeya, was skilled in many arts and was Dasharatha's charioteer in his war with the demons. She loved Rama dearly but succumbed to the scheming of Manthara, her maid who had looked after her since childhood.

Geeta has been working on the project for over a year, researching the original text by Valmiki.

What made her think of doing a performance on Kaikeyi? "In my days at Lady Shri Ram college, I was part of 'Operama' and did the part of Kaikeyi. I found the character interesting. It remained with me. A year ago I started reading and researching the texts to flesh out the character."

Geeta has collaborated with Rashid Ansari, a well-known martial arts exponent, for the venture. The dance is highly stylised and includes traditional devadasi abhinaya as well as Rashid's introduction of Butoh and Kabuki theatre. It has some vigorous dance moments with Chinese martial art forms of Tai Chi Chu'an and Ba-gua.

The music, given by Arjun Sen, is not the traditional Carnatic classical form that accompanies Bharatanatyam performances, but is "international music", says Geeta. "The music enhances the dance movements. We have used percussion and also the guitar," she said.

Her costume is also different. Geeta will wear a flowing, long dress, designed by designer Sandhya Raman, to give the character "a stately look". She will say her dialogues in English.

The production is in three acts. The first dwells on Kaikeyi's character - her positive traits and her insecurities. The second through "abstract" moves shows how Manthara - a rag doll as stage prop - works on Kaikeyi's mind. "The doll takes on different characters - sometimes it represents Manthara, sometimes Bharata - depending on whom Kaikeyi is talking to," says Geeta.

The third act is "completely abstract" with a lot of theatre and "visual breaking of the body", says Geeta. There are a lot of "harsh movements" to show her shaken when Dasharatha dies and when Bharata rejects her.

One will get to hear the accomplished Geeta sing in this act. "I sing an aalap - to represent her lament."

There is an epilogue - portrayed as a scene in a police station - where Kaikeyi is derided with voices saying "Kaisi aurat hai, dekho (What kind of woman is she!)" and "declared guilty".

Geeta plans to take the performance to Chennai and Bangalore soon.

And how does she think the audience will react?

"I don't know. I expect it to click. I have enjoyed the process thoroughly and so has Rashid Ansari. He is very excited as this is the first time he has worked with classical dance."

Her daughter Sharanya, also a talented dancer, and her pupils have yet to see it. "I'll know what they have to say after they see it."

Geeta has been helped in the research and script by Deepa Dharmadhikari while the lighting is by Zuleikha Choudhury.

First Published: Aug 21, 2006 11:41 IST