ravings, rantings and ramblings
I am always excited when my valued friend, singer and theatre director Jogiraj calls to share his plans for the next stage production. This time he was planning to stage Draupadi. Some subjects are very tough to approach and portray. Draupadi is one such. Born of fire, beauteous beyond words, queen wife to the bravest five, yet a victim of her own fate! Some believe that she was the cause of the great Indian war epic – the Mahabharata. Some think Draupadi was a little too vain and sharp-tongued. Some don’t think much. Draupadi is believed to be the reason that destroyed her clan. No girl in India, is ever named Draupadi. Is she the first Indian anti-hero? If this is the price one has to pay for fighting for her rights and standing her ground when her own could not, then so be it. This is perhaps why we need to learn her story and know our epic from her perspective. Draupadi is the epitome of chastity and truth. She is praised for her extreme devotion to her husbands and mother-in-law. On many occasions, she did not shy away from demanding justice directly from heads of state. She criticised greats of her time when they did not save her from humiliation. She sought revenge. Yet, she forgave the man who murdered her sons.
Krishnaa, Agnijyotsna, Yagyaseni, Panchaali, Mahabharatii – there are many names and epithets to Draupadi – the central character. She was born, a royal, but did not have a life that royals usually lead. Unfortunately, most remember Draupadi on two accounts – that she had five husbands and that she was gambled away by her husbands and then tried to be disrobed publicly. Social standing and scandals define who you are and not familial background or character. The parameter hasnt changed much, has it?
I do get carried away while thinking / speaking / writing about a subject like Draupadi. She, for one, did not have an easy life. Unwanted by her father since birth. Always had to partake in her sibling celebrations. Given away in marriage to a ‘bramhin’ without asking for any credentials (later was it revealed that the bramhin was Arjuna). Forced to be married to 5 husbands. Spent her best years in forests. She was pawned by her illustrious husband at a game of dice. She was forcibly dragged out of her chambers by her hair and (attempted to) disrobe by her brother-in-law. She was almost raped by a warrior prince and later was tried to be abducted by another brother-in-law. She then loses her 5 sons to the great battle. Easy life, is it?
Now to deal with Draupadi as a subject and evoke audiences to see perspective is not an easy task that Jogi’s troupe Malhaar took up. Long months of research followed by gruelling rehearsal sessions that went on for 6 months takes a lot of conviction and giving up on family time. The professionals that came together for this daunting production have myriad day-jobs and their evenings were spent rehearsing. The 50 heads consisted of dance-drama-music professionals that included Tapasya Dance School and Third Half Theatre collaborating with Malhaar. The 2-day stage work was broken down into 5 important pegs of Draupadi’s life, namely birth, swayamvar (choosing her own husband), cheerharan (disrobing), Kurukshetra (the terrible war waged at Kurukshetra) and mahaprayaan (ascension to heaven).
Dance was the backbone of the production. The protagonist, herself an ace dancer, used Indian classical dance form Kathak to bring Draupadi to life. The other dancers were the bone structure as they utilised the dark stage with their fiery performances, sometimes as ‘fire-girls’ and then sometimes as the dice that dictated Draupadi’s life. 2 American contemporary dancer-actors added a modern dimension to the story-telling. They stumbled upon the story of Draupadi and ended up experiencing the pain, the anger, the angst and the remorse.The other cache of stage actors added the ‘Macbeth-esque’ touch. They were stone figurines that breathed and added to the stage narrative. It was a tough job holding on in their pose and posture before ‘becoming’ the next character.
A very, very poignant scene was when Draupadi came over to console Queen Mother Gandhari over the loss of her 100 sons, while her heart bled for her 5 dead sons. The two were then held together in an embrace by the modern woman, who went through the same emotions as Draupadi herself.
If dance and drama were the body, music was the soul. Jogiraj and his band of musicians wove emotion after emotion while the audience ate the visuals. Using Indian classical, they lapsed into touches of fusion and a touch of (Rabindranath) Tagore.
I had the good fortune of presenting the epilogue to the dramatic piece. While I was framing my thoughts did I realise that Draupadi played the role of feminist, Queen, mother, equal partner as a wife, perfectionist, wise and a tough woman. She is the role model of modern generations. She proved that a woman cannot be inferior and has equal rights to live in the society in a dignified way. Draupadi is not a myth. She lives on today through generations.
Much after Draupadi and her era has gone, society keeps violating the basic rights of women; and women give in to circumstances. Draupadi’s battle for dignity continues today. For a Draupadi exists in every woman.
Draupadi was showcased at the Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai on 23 and 24 of May 2014. For the latest on Malhaar, follow them on Facebook and Twitter.