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A review of Anita Ratnam’s performance 'A Million Sitas'

Anita Ratnam in A Million Sitas

Anita Ratnam in A Million Sitas   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Anita Ratnam retells the Ramayana, but with many twists

“Sita is the heartbeat of the Ramayana,” begins Anita Ratnam. She is in the city to perform her production A Million Sitas. “Without her there would be no story,” she continues. And for the rest of the evening, she acts, sings, tells stories, jokes, dances and gives the audience something to ponder over.

While it is the Ramayana that unfolds on stage, the story line is only incidental; what is central is the role of women. These are not the one-dimensional, docile, obedient, weak-willed and wife-mother-daughter-sister kinds that Anita is portraying; these are women of the epic who changed the course of destiny, won adversities, suffered great sorrows, and (quite literally) walked through fire. Mandodari, Ahalya, Manthara, Soorpanakha and Sita were strong women and that evening they were brought to life by Anita.

Anita Ratnam turns herself into Ahalya

Anita Ratnam turns herself into Ahalya   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The stage is done up in lotuses, dark and menacing corners, diaphanous curtains hanging from the ceiling, cane baskets, ropes and bric-a-brac... all of which had a part to play. Anita shrugs on a red cloak and turns into the imperious Soorpanakha; she shrouds herself in a veil of grey to become Ahalya, the cursed one who was turned to stone; she wears unsullied white and is then Sita, a symbol of purity; as the wily Manthara, she wields a long-stemmed lotus like a weapon as she berates, advises, cajoles and commands Kaikeyi to come to her senses and stake a claim to the throne for her son Bharatha... Anita stamps her feet, sways, leaps and dances across the stage — angry, shy, terrified, heartbroken and all woman.

She pauses every now and then to become the sutradhar. She shares less-known stories about Sita from other Ramayanas, borrowed from other cultures, dance forms and folklore, and draws parallels between the politics in the epic and the current day scenario. She gently ridicules patriarchal norms and beliefs and jokes about bad tempered mothers-in-law. The performance is more a conversation with the audience than a mere stage-performance.

Manthara poisons Kaikeyi’s mind

Manthara poisons Kaikeyi’s mind   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Her only accompanists are Sharanya Krishnan and NK Kesavan. Sharanya sings amazingly to Anita’s dance and both of them bring alive old favourites like ‘Sita Kalyanam’ and ‘Ramanukku Mannan Mudi’ and ‘Seethamma Mayamma’ and Kaanavendum Laksham Kangal’ in praise of Sita and the Meera bhajan ‘Paayoji Maine Ram Ratan Dhan Paayo’. Sharanya also dances gracefully in snatches — as Kaikeyi, as Jatayu, as Hanuman. Later, Anita describes Sharanya as “a pure classical singer who is now a singer, actor, performer.” The multi-percussionist Kesavan, who has set the mood for the dramatic performance with sonorous beats, has been with Anita for 30 years, she says. He re-creates the sounds of rippling waters, chirping birds and plopping fishes of Panchavati.

For a cause
  • A Million Sitas was performed in Coimbatore at the invitation of FICCI FLO as its annual fundraiser.
  • The money raised will go towards empowering women in agriculture and providing training to women to become commercial drivers.

Nostalgia, half-forgotten stories, brand new ones and feminism all crowd into the evening and Anita says there are many more performances of A Million Sitaswaiting to be shared. It has already done 35 shows over three continents and is still travelling. She departs saying, “THIS Sita definitely has legs.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 1:10:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/a-review-of-anita-ratnams-performance-a-million-sitas/article27660230.ece

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