Geeta Chandran explored the Mahatma through six of his defining ideas.
What were Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts on women? More important, what were women’s thoughts on him and his ideology? Does it deal with reality beyond celluloid-hyped and social-marketed Gandhigiri? Can one reflect his writings and philosophy through a performing art like dance beyond the usual clichés?
Most of what one has seen of Gandhi so far has been a direct reference to his biography and the usual predictable content of the other historical characters around him. Anyone working with the theme of Gandhi is expected to face the problem of plenty. But it takes some guts to work on complete abstraction and tame it to form and sensible content on stage.
Geeta Chandran managed to harness this successfully and deliver it, albeit in a convoluted way, in her presentation ‘Gandhi – Warp and Weft’ at the Epic Women Conference conducted by Dr. Anita Ratnam and Kartik Fine Arts.
Picking up half a dozen of Gandhi’s thoughts on various subjects, Geeta opened her performance sitting in front of a chataai that acted as the only set on stage as tunes of ‘Shuddhabrahma Paratpara Ram’ rang through the hall, pitching Gandhi’s unflinching devotion to his gods.
Exploring Gandhi through six of his defining ideas, Geeta began with the first and foremost thought of secularism. While the dance was great, most of it was predictable with the usage of Kabir vaani. From there to Gandhi’s idea of human intimacy and celibacy with ‘Pyaari Nazariyaan.’ Much has been written about this subject, mostly out of curiosity and has often been read with sheer voyeurism. Geeta’s portrayal evoked a completely different perspective on this topic.
Gandhi’s biggest implement against the British Raj was his Satyagraha Movement. Using a wonderful theatrical technique of walking in a single stream of diagonally-drawn light, Geeta showed the mass Civil Disobedience Movement and the famous Dandi March and Gandhi’s principal tool of Ahimsa with a simple but effective change in her costume. This was yet another smartness the choreography exhibited as the dancer made several costume changes; from the flamboyant to the prudent. The costume, in many ways, also defined her act in the content she was performing on stage.
In her choreography, Geeta showed everything including destitute masses that were victims to India’s caste system. Clutching her stomach and turning empty plates upside down, Geeta portrayed the hunger strikes powerfully. One couldn’t miss out Khadi if it was Gandhi. In an excellent display of spinning the charka, Geeta used Khadi as a metaphor for unity. In a short sequence of tight-rope walking the dancer expressed her own idea and take on what Gandhi meant on divisive politics.
While Geeta must be appreciated for the freshness of her work, it might be suggested to string these ideas into a sequence with a narrative instead of a total abstraction without any transitions. With a little re-working, this production could easily reach out to students as an intelligent way to imbibe Gandhian philosophy.
(Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and a Culture critic)