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The modern Panchali

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sharp and clear: Rohini.
sharp and clear: Rohini.

KAUSALYA SANTHANAM

INTERPRETATION Rohini presented the exploited woman of the 21st century.

A contemporary look was given to Subramania Bharati’s ‘Panchali Sabatham’ at the Natyarangam festival. Prasanna Ramaswamy (script, music, choreography and direction) gave Bharati’s work an entirely new interpretation that moved and provoked. ‘Panchali Sabatham’ featured actor Rohini who gave a brilliant performance.

In this adaptation of the poem, the old was linked to the new and the past and present interwove as Rohini transformed into Draupadi who fierily questions the injustice inflicted on her. She also breaks out of the character from time to time to become the modern woman who as fierily questions the present day scenario where those in power perpetrate unbelievable atrocities while the moderate voice remains mute.

“My interlinking text is spoken as the actor/person voicing her concerns and Sukhumaran’s poem is rendered as the reflective wisdom about Bharati at the end,” says Prasanna in her director’s note.

Changing moods

In what way does the modern woman relate to this magnificent character from the Mahabharata? What are the challenges she faces in the contemporary context? Who has the courage in our troubled times to question the atrocities that take place victimising the innocent in the game of power? Which are the voices that though invested with authority fail to speak out and hence are accessories to the fact? The play raises these issues. And above all it celebrates the spirit of the woman, her innate confidence and strength.

The work began with a video clip of the fashion shows on television that exploit woman’s body. It then spotlighted actor Rohini clad in western attire. As she discards bits of her attire and dons a gauzy skirt over white trousers and form fitting shirt, there was a strained silence in the hall. But the actor riveted the attention of the viewers by her performance where the moves of flamenco dance provided the wings of flight. Lights were skilfully managed by M. Natesh and Prasanna.

Rohini’s every syllable and movement came through with sharpness and the clarity conveying the agony of a woman wronged. As she turns to Lord Krishna and surrenders totally to him, the yards of fabric materialise, concrete proof of her absolute devotion. Singer Sushanth’s melodious strong tones added yet another emotional dimension. As the drapes came unto the stage held aloft by young dancers, the viewer felt a tangible release of tension. It was a very moving moment.

Unlike in “Karnan,” the director’s vision was strong here. But there were moments of disquiet. Sabha audiences who came to the performance expecting a straight reading from Bharati’s poem felt surprised and jolted by this modern interpretation which they felt was not what they expected or the organisers had envisaged. The too tight costume struck a jarring note. Was not the fashion video counterproductive as overlong, it seemed to do what it was obviously critiquing?

The Museum Theatre or the Alliance Francaise is a better venue and not the sabha for such modern theatre, felt some. But is this precisely also why there is no meeting point or dialogue between the sabha theatre and the parallel theatre in Chennai?


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