Rani Khanam’s choreography was a sensitive interface between art and activism
A potent combination of the three A’s, “Arts, Activism, and Arshiya Sethi”, made for a unique Kri Foundation evening at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, titled “Black and White” comprising poetry, music, dance and dramatisation, portraying and throwing light on a sensitive theme, “Rights of Indian Muslim Women under Muslim Personal Law” as prescribed in their holy book, The Quran. While our syncretic culture recognising equality and exclusivity celebrates diversity, very few know about the gender equality prescribed in Muslim personal law, which a patriarchal society has chosen to disregard in practice.
Providing the evening at the Stein auditorium with the right frame of reference was a brief but lucid introduction by Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, Member, Planning Commission, who said the chasm between word and practice had come from people who ignored the fact that the first protest voice speaking up for the rights of women, bringing about a revolution in gender relations in a hitherto rigid patriarchal society, was the Prophet’s preaching from the first mosque on Khula, Iddat and Talaq. These laid down the right of women to divorce, her right to wait a certain period before getting married again in case of divorce or widowhood and the process of divorce which is perhaps the most wrongly practised today.
Talking is one thing and showing it in dance, quite another. But the sensitive artistic vision of Kathak dancer Rani Khanam whose concept and choreography were based on poetry and script by Ameeta Parsuram ‘Meeta’, with Arshiya’s taped introductory comments, made the performance really evocative.
The excellent music on tape was Rani’s own score which started with Megh Malhar, “Amad hai yar ki barsengi aaj rehmate” where the woman joyfully waiting for her man soon realises he is unfaithful and asks for separation as her right. The dancer used the group of four or five students dancing nritta providing the outward frame, within which Rani as the main performer expressed the woman’s hope and anguish. The way in which simultaneity ensured the totality of one weave within which the solo dancer’s performance was not distracted, was very fluid without abruptness in the separation and coming together. The dancer’s subtle abhinaya, delicate and yet most convincing, is rare amongst Kathak dancers.
The pain of widowhood in the Iddat segment started in a most moving fashion with the woman trying to run after the bier being carried, and how like a fish trapped in a net, the woman pines, and the time allowed before entering another marriage were all again very tellingly portrayed.
Talaq with a full three-month time between declarations, with proper arbitration and counselling, and how woman attains self-realisation were again powerfully communicated with the symbolism of the group performing with masks held to the face, and the finale was a tarana in Mishra Kalavati in Chautala.
A production of this nature is bound to evolve through repeated presentations, and the one area which needs some pruning is the last bit, where the optimum moment of the woman’s self-realisation would have made an excellent point to end. Again breaking into nritta effusion punctured the mood.
Might of the ocean
Conceived and visualised by Odissi dancer Ranjana Gauhar, and presented by her dance academy Utsav, the dance drama “Ksheer Sagar” was mounted at Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium under the sponsorship of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. After technical snags botching the start of the music came the first part, “Chandrabhaga”, this child of the sea seeking a tragic end in the waters of her mother after being innocently caught in the trap of a wager between two deities — the Sun God and the God of Love Kamdev. This is a popular item in Seraikella Chhau which obviously inspired the mixed Chhau/Odissi choreography, with Chhau Guru Shashadhar Acharya playing the dhol with some Chhau movements rendered by his disciple. The choreography, with Ranjana as Chandrabhaga, had a neat if unrelated nritta start, which could have been edited to focus on the actual theme. The Surya-Kamdev wager and feud and the chasing of Chandrabhaga by the former one felt was too fleetingly shown before the final plunge into the ocean, whose might was not very clear in the story.
“Matsya Avatar”, the second part, was visually, in the dance coordination, costuming and general proficiency of the performers, commendable. But this critic had reservations about the mix and match choreography. If the nritta part is going to use sequences from the Shankarabharanam pallavi, moksha, trikhandi pranam or even batu, stringing these with small portions of one’s dance visualisation, then where does authorship lie? And while Ranjana herself is not a disciple of Kelucharan Mohapatra, a couple of students who have joined Utsav, are trained in the Kelucharan style. I think a word of acknowledgement that one has incorporated parts from the works of gurus would be in order.
The dance narrative of the stolen Vedas being retrieved by the fish from Hayagriva was well rendered with good male and female dancers. The script was a blend of Hindi and Sanskrit along with chanting. Suresh Sethi as music director did a good job.