“It is a performance that keeps giving”: Anita Ratnam on A Million Sitas

Illuminating women who have so far been only silhouettes

Illuminating women who have so far been only silhouettes   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


It has travelled the world and now Anita Ratnam brings her production, A Million Sitas to Coimbatore

Anita Ratnam performs A Million Sitas in the city on June 6 at the invitation of FICCI Flo. “It is a production that has been on for 10 years and it keeps giving and giving,” says the dancer who is delighted that the show is finally coming here. “It has been quite a long time since I performed in Coimbatore. I have been planning it for nearly two years and only now is it happening. May be one reason is that I have so many friends here, so it is all very informal.” A Million Sitas has travelled the world (except perhaps Australia and South America), and Anita says she couldn’t be happier it has journeyed here.

The name says it all. Anita is very definite as she says, “This is not a story that has not already been told. I am not reinventing it. There are so many versions of this epic and A Million Sitas is drawn from the lesser-known traditions of the Ramayana (Bengal, Odisha, Kerala...). I don’t deviate from the story. I am just illuminating women who have so far been only silhouettes,” she emphasises.

The Ramayana is never far from our consciousness. It is a part of our cultural memory and vocabulary. We invoke the epic in our conversations so often. We speak of agni pariksha and the Lakshman rekha all the time. Those are Sita’s metaphors — trial by fire and crossing boundaries...” Yet, says Anita, the story is universal. It has caught the imagination of her audiences wherever in the world she has performed. “It is after all the story of a man and a woman, a prince and a princess, a brother in law, mother-in-law, father-in-law, family relationships... It is a story that is both old and new. In South Africa, so many people told me that it reminded them of their own indigenous stories. It resonated particularly in countries that go back a long way, where there are communities and cultures that are old and have a women’s history. At the same time the audience in New York University got it too!”

“It is a performance that keeps giving”: Anita Ratnam on A Million Sitas

So has A Million Sitas evolved over the 10 years? “Enormously,” says Anita. “There are contemporary references. There is humour, suspense, storytelling, theatre, music and dance. It is accessible. I have had to reinvent and rediscover ways of telling the story.” Even the sets are different. “The sets you will see are created by South African designers, the costumes have evolved... Look out for a beautiful Ndebele. It is a traditional beaded collar necklace! And I have collected headgear and other accessories that have organically become a part of the narrative. Everything has a reason to be; nothing is forced,” she adds.

It is a retelling of an old epic, so has she stuck to a classical dance style? “Most emphatically, no!” Anita says she does not do ‘pure classical’ any more. She gives a reason for that. “For me, Bharatanatyam is like parents. I love them, but there are other worlds to discover. I feel the classical idiom does not allow me to explore other worlds. I have studied English Literature, theatre, television... My arc is very different. I cannot look eternally young and beautiful. I have to move on. I evolve as does A Million Sitas. This shows my current persona as a dancer-actor and storyteller. And to be able to illuminate forgotten women from our epic has been joyous and challenging.”

Info you can use
  • A Million Sitas performs in Coimbatore at the invitation of FICCI FLO as its annual fund raiser. The money raised will go towards empowering women in agriculture and providing training to women to become commercial drivers.
  • When: June 6; from 6.30 pm
  • Where: PSG Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Auditorium (Entrance Fun Mall Road)

The first performance of A Million Sitas was in 2009 during the December Music Season in Chennai. Asked which was her happiest and most memorable of the productions, she said “I performed once again after 10 years at Music Academy in March this year. For friends, family and so many known people. Usually, abroad, I have to be very very careful about the vocabulary and cultural references I portray. Not here. I could be myself with my dear ones, use Tamil, and I felt like I had come home.”

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 12:48:47 PM |

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