Shobana’s ‘Maya Ravan’ was a kaleidoscope of music, dance and tradition with a twist.
It was a spectacle on stage. Leaping dancers, dazzling lights in criss-crosses of blue and green, the shimmering video projected as the background, Shobana herself whirling like a dervish. Mythology met a strange genre of modernity as Maya Ravan came to Hyderabad on September 18.
Maya Ravan tells the story of the Ramayana, liberally peppered with rather unconventional English dialogue and music. Described as being a dance ballet, the production aimed to amalgamate different streams of classical dance, Bharatanatyam being predominant. Shobana herself played the role of ten-headed demon king Ravana, an actor’s delight for his shades of grey, as well as the vengeful queen Kaikeyi and Ravana’s sister Surpanakha, hopelessly besotted with Lakshmana and eager for revenge.
The ballet mostly stuck to the traditional account of the epic with proper dialogue amidst a kaleidoscope of music and dance. Maya Ravan opened with a conversation between Kaikeyi and her long-time maid Manthara.
The latter was portrayed as being Ravana’s spy in the kingdom of Ayodhya, while Kaikeyi appeared to be Ravana’s alter-ego, shifting mercurially between the two characters.
Shobana’s vision of the Ramayana sees several shifts between the orthodox and unorthodox. Sita calls Ravana a donkey, Lakshmana insists on calling Sita bhabhi, Hanuman and his vanara army leap to the beats of a jaunty rock and roll number. Humour was probably the main intention, but the result is sorrowfully incongruous to the rest of the serious narrative.
Maya Ravan also seems to be tailor-made for a western audience. Shobana is an acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer, but Maya Ravan is less so, with classical steps and non-classical movements.
Audience members who were hoping for a pure classical performance might have been disappointed but the overall effect was enthralling. The timing and execution was also perfect: every sequence followed the next in quick and seamless succession, weaving a colourful and timeless story of good and evil.
While the acting was good, the narrative voices were faultless. Naseeruddin Shah might only have been the voice of Ravana but he stole the show. Maya Ravan also featured the voices of Milind Soman, Revathy, Jackie Shroff, Mohanlal and Suhasini Manirathnam. There were several puzzling omissions in ballet, possibly because the lengthy epic had to be pruned, grafted and trimmed into a two-and-a-half hour performance. Bharata was conspicuous by his absence, and the stories of Vibheeshana and Kumbakarna had to be deleted. The war was also glossed over for the most part. Perhaps the character that was etched out the best was that of Mandodari. Queen consort to Ravana, she was powerfully detailed in Maya Ravan. After the death of Ravana, her statement to Rama was one of the most powerful lines from the entire production: that there would be many avatars of Rama, but there would only be one Ravana.