Mahabharata has always been a source of inspiration for all the dancers, many shows and choreographies have immerged based on the epic story. Every character in the classic has inspired dancers world over, each person in the mythological tale has his or her own positive and negative shades which bring interesting twists and turns to dance works. One such character is the leading lady of Mahabharata – Draupadi.
I am glad that I was a part of a unique show ‘Sairandhari – The Musical’ by Neha Banerjee. Neha is a Kathak exponent having learnt under the guidance of Kathak legend Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj and Sheila Mehta. ‘Sairandhari’ was the idea of Neha where the life of Draupadi was presented through Indian classical dance Kathak and Bharatnatyam.
If you think that it was yet another classical dance show where traditional dances were used to showcase the epic story then think again. It was nothing stereotype, yes it was talking of various episodes of Draupadi’s life but at the same time comparing it to today. Neha very ably played Draupadi then and Draupadi (women) now and I played the role of the dominating Male Ego that always tries his best to put the women down in each sphere of life.
Dr Uma Rele the super talented and dynamic principal of Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidhyala choreographed Draupadi’s Life then, using the nuances of Kathak and Bharatnatyam. On the other hand, Vipin Kumar Kushwaha along with Ankita Dolawat and Aditi Deshpande planned Draupadi life now using various international dance forms like waltz, Rumba, Tango, Aerial Silk, Contemporary, Hip Hop, Broadway, Jazz, and many more.
The show had five important phases of Draupdi’s life starting with her Utpatti (birth) where through classical dances Dr Rele showed how Draupadi was born out of Fire and got her name Agniputri (one who is born out of fire) and on the other hand the modern take spoke about how after birth a girl child is put into fire. She is Agniputri in both the times, one where she is born out of the fire and the other she is put into the fire. So has Draupadi’s (Women) life become better than before?
Moving to the youth where is the gorgeous doe-eyed Draupadi weds Arjuna in her swayamwar and is given no choice by her mother in law who says ‘Batlo’ (divide amongst yourselves) and she becomes Panchali (one who has five husbands) and today too she has no choice, no choice of career, marriage, children, clothes, etc. So has Draupadi’s (Women) life become better than before?
The third phase was the time when her Matyada (dignity and self-esteem) was tested and cheerharan (disrobing) took place. Krishna came to help her and rescue her. Whereas today a woman is brutally molested, teased, raped, gang-raped, killed and murdered and thrown on the street like garbage. So, has Draupadi’s (Women) life become better than before?
Another phase when during Agyatwas (exile) while she worked as Virat Kingdom’s queen Sudeshnan hairstylist her brother Keechak insulted her comparing a Sairandhari (maid) to a prostitute. Today a woman is disrespected and loose words are spoken about her, addressing a woman as a slut, bitch and a whore is a common thing in today’s modern language. So has Draupadi’s (Women) life become better than before?
Last part was the Mahaprasthanam (the great journey to moksha) where the five powerful husbands don’t even turn and look back at her when she slips and falls. And today too after a women dies a man brings in a new bride within a few days and weeks. Whereas when a man dies the women must remain a widow for life and has no right to neither dress nor meet anyone other than the God. So, has Draupadi’s (Women) life become better than before?
I asked the talent box Neha Banerjee as to what inspired her to conceive this one of its kind show, she said, ‘I was reading an interesting book called Palace of Illusion and it made me look at Draupadi life in a very different manner and then when I would pick up newspapers and read about girl foeticide, rape, molestation, child marriage, widows of Vrindawan, etc my heart would always ask a question, has my life (a women) become better or worse? This question gave me sleepless nights and that is when I decided to make this show and ask the same question to the people of my country.’
This show has lights designed by Sangeet Natak Akadami awardee Gyan Dev Singh, Music by Vivek Mishra, Poster Design by Akash Kumbhar, Many musician gave their valuable time Pakhawaj – Ganesh Sawant, Vocal – Shalini Sinha, Omkar Patil, Sitar – Aprna Deodhar, Flute – Bhaskar Das, Sarangi – Sandeep Mishra , Costumes were by Sidney Sladen. Show managed by Parul Chawla and Satish Jupiter, Executive Producer Aditi Kapadia and Backstage management Jameel Shah. The show opened in Chennai and Mumbai with house full audience and will now be travelling to Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad, Calcutta, London, New York, Paris and many more cities.
This hard-hitting and extremely bold show Sairandhri speaks nothing but the truth of what was the life of Draupadi then and compares it to her life today, leaving the audience with the same question that haunts Neha even today. Has Draupadi’s life become better or has it become worst? Is a woman a man’s Ardhangini (equal half) or is she his better half? Is a woman meant to be loved by the man or is she his Sairandhri (a Maid)? These are some important questions which we all need to ask ourselves today. Even if you have not seen the show I hope you will be able to find answers for yourself and make the place we live in better for men and women both.