THEMATIC Anita Ratnam's Neo Bharatam production, ‘Million Sitas,' was a convergence of many thoughts. VIDYA SARANYAN
T o the Indian psyche, Sita personifies the perfect wife – customarily interpreted as the ever dutiful and submissive woman who faithfully followed her husband not only to the horrors of the forest but more evils beyond.
Anita Ratnam's ‘Million Sitas' offered a different viewpoint on some key female characters in the Ramayana -- Ahalya, Manthara, Sabari and Surpanakha -- all bound by the common thread of Sita's questioning yet compassionate persona. As is typical of her productions, this one too was featured in Anita's Neo Bharatam style that collated wide-ranging inputs from theatre, mime, classical dance, music and oratory. The production sought to bestow an empathetic view on the apparent weaknesses of each protagonist through Sita's eyes and there onwards, to draw the corollary of women's predicament the world over.
While it was clearly successful in the first instance, the jump to the larger scenario came across as a fainter statement and one that would have gained significance with a longer look.
There is always considerable anticipation from a multi-layered production as this one and on the subject, ‘Million Sitas' delivered. Not surprising when one sees a convergence of so many thoughts.
The Fan dance, the tranquillity of the Zen garden and the lovely water filled vases were some fascinating bits of artistry that Anita drew from her association with the Far East and nimbly transplanted them into the fabric of the production. Surpanakha's bizarre overtures, Valmiki's Ashrama and the undulations to show the sameness between these and all women are just some examples.
Contrasting body language as in the deliberate over the top sketch of Manthara or in Sabari's single minded regard for Rama, she pooled her skills in parody and mime. Adding to the linkages were the liquid vocals of Lakshmi Rangarajan and Subiksha Rangarajan, in particular for ‘Sitamma Mayama' the refrain that linked Sita's dialogue with her female compatriots in the epic. Moves reminiscent of the alarippu served as early reminders of the Bharatanatyam techniques that Anita has imbibed from senior gurus - all of which served to place the classical content in place. The assertion of Sita's choices placed as punctuations between the telling of other subplots came through as shrewd dramatisation. . Further inputs of the team including Harikrishnan and Rex for composing and costume design strengthened the production.
Amidst these pluses the exclusion of Ravanaa's queen Mandodari from this presentation left a facet of the remarkable tale unsaid here – something that will doubtless be attended to by the dancer in future sittings. In addition, the oration by Priya Murle while adequate would have taken on extra punch if combined with some more speeches by the dancer firsthand. In sum Million Sitas threw up prism images of women - some balanced, some demented and one of an undaunted Sita who chose her own way.