Rajashree Shirke’s portrait of Hidimba was moving.

Do all mothers feel alike about their children? Are some mothers more or less motherly in displaying their affection? Watching ‘Mata Hidimba,’ a refreshingly original composition by Rajashree Shirke in a new genre called ‘Ranga Nritya,’ you get a sense of the magic, good choreography can do to the subject. A clever mix of Indian classical music fed with ample dialogue to create a theatrical spectacle, Rajashree and her group of dancers managed to pull off an excellent show at the Epic Women conference organised by Kartik Fine Arts and Dr. Anita Ratnam.

Mahabharata continues to be the spring-board of creativity for scores of artists. The epic has often under-told the story of demon Hidimba, the asura wife of Bhima. Beyond a few caricatures in cinema and company dramas, this character has mostly evaded all narratives in popular media. According to Rajashree’s portrayal, Hidimba, a rakshasi or demon princess, grows up strong, courageous and free-spirited in the forest till she is smitten by Bhima. Bhima reciprocates her love on the condition that she must remain in the forest after the birth of their son Ghatotkacha, thanks to the pre-condition set by older brother Yudhishtira. Life as a single mother comes to a grinding halt when her son questions who his father is. On revealing it was one of the Pandavas, Ghatotkacha insists on meeting them. Hidimba’s gut feeling about this whole affair turns predictable with her knowledge of the ongoing war of Kurukshetra. With good advice, she parts with her son helplessly, praying nothing will go wrong.

On due occasion, Krishna plots on sending Ghatotkacha to the war where he falls prey, leaving Hidimba deprived of the only son she had. While everyone is aware of Kunti’s loss and lamenting over her sons’ death, Hidimba the single mother, written off as a dark character, is projected as a woman with no motherly feelings. Hidimba holds Krishna guilty of her son’s death and retires into the forest to never return into the main story of the Mahabharata ever again. It was this canvass that was explored brilliantly in the powerful abhinaya Rajashree portrayed.

Utilising the traditional Marathi theatre technique of having a melodious chorus, Rajashree became the sutradhaar and the protagonist of the show. The other dancers morphed into various roles through the story. The tragic mood aggravated in the part when Ghatotkacha dies at war with a wish that his funeral be held by his mother in the forest. Hidimba’s grief could have melted a stone. The idea of subjugation and brutality came across in the powerful characterisation etched with poignancy. Rajashree could have done with lower decibels and less-glaring costumes to suit the subtlety of her excellent interpretation. The freshness of the subject carried her through this fine piece.

(Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and a culture critic)