The story of Mahabharat from the eyes of Draupadi, nee Panchali in “From Fire to Fire” offers a refreshing re-look at the great epic. Ahmedabad-based dance academy Rasadhwani’s theatrical Bharatanatyam production glued us to the seats in utter admiration for more than one reason. Firstly, the adaptation of the source, “Palace of illusions” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a 300-odd page novel into an hour-and-half dance ballet was no mean task. To top it, the novel reads like an autobiography; hence the dance aptly adopted the soliloquy technique and injected aesthetics that lent an amazing dimension and beauty to the ballet. Lighting played a relevant role in enhancing the presentation.
The rise of Panchali (Shivangee Vikram) from fire – with no props–and her outburst at the very beginning of her emergence for not having been given a proper name other than Drupad’s daughter, hence Draupadi, sketches out her character for us. The narrative focuses on her inner feelings, her thoughts, her arrogance and inflated ego. To her, her complexion comparable to none other than lord Krishna, her childhood friend, is also an aspect of pride. Her love for Karna who wins her heart in the first meeting but never gets to know her secret longing as long as he lived is ridden with contrasting emotions of ego and remorse. All through the narrative, she is bound to draw comparison between what she got and what she would have got had she married Karna instead of the Pandava princes.
Shivangee’s expertise with dance and more so abhinaya has personified Panchali as seen through author Chitra’s eyes for us. The audience moves along with her emotions now emphasising, now in self-introspection and remorse and so on. The group dancers breeze in and out of the stage either as the five Pandavas or as her alter ego or as her sons or as elongations of the story. Brilliant flashes like the miming of Dasavatar in quick succession by Panchali as Krishna’s voice reveals His past lives, the group dance after she begets five sons from each husband where dancers dwindle out of stage as the song progresses, her varied romantic, seductive approaches to each of her husbands handled with extreme care contributed to the aesthetic element lending depth and natural appeal to the narrative.
Panchali born of fire, we are led to believe through this presentation, constantly invited fierce circumstances like the Kurukshetra war and consequent destruction with her fiery nature, witnesses the death and funeral of her sons and finally passes into fire in the symbolic sense. Shivangee was able to take her audience along to identify themselves against Panchali’s character, which all of us possess in parts, her tryst with destiny like anyone of ours and her realisation in the end which is the moral for us to draw from her life. The fact that Krishna was there for her from childhood to love her with all her plus and minuses, yet her own ignorance and indifference to the love at hand and her greed to get something higher on the material plane was brought out beautifully and convincingly through this ballet. There was no ambiguity whatsoever. It ended with another home truth that God is always by our side from the moment we are born, yet we fail to realise God because we are shrouded in the mist of Maya (illusion) and only on death-bed do we realise Him like Panchali. A very poignant ending where she is the first to fall at the beginning of the climb to the snow-clad Himalayas and is left alone to die. The dance element in the form of mnemonics set to swar bhol or just bhol to vilambit and drut as the situation warranted was perfect. The Mahabharat war with a thrilled Panchali as eye-witness got its impetus through a racy group dance set to pure nritta (footwork). The sync and rhythm of the group, the timing of entry-exit buttressed the soliloquy breathing life into it and kept it pulsating. Draupadi is a favourite with many a dancer but ‘From Fire to Fire’ beat all others hollow in depicting a complete Draupadi as the beacon of womanhood. Kudos to the choreographer-director Uma Anantani for bringing out the essence of the novel . The ballet was hosted at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre.