The forgotten women of the Ramayana

(L to R) Akhila Ramnarayan, Aarabi Veeraraghavan and (seated) Sunandha Raghunathan

(L to R) Akhila Ramnarayan, Aarabi Veeraraghavan and (seated) Sunandha Raghunathan  


Gowri Ramnarayan’s new play, ‘What She Said’, explores the stories of six minor characters from the Ramayana

How do less seen, little known women, far from the spotlight, some voiceless and marginalised, navigate life? Gowri Ramnarayan’s new play, What She Said: Six Voices from the Ramayana, which premieres on December 8 is an endeavour driven primarily by this question. Intrigued by the unique lens through which such women view the world, the playwright, theatre director and journalist explores the different journeys of minor women characters in the Ramayana. She believes that people in such positions have more nuanced perspectives and a deeper understanding of human nature.

What She Said is not a story from ancient times, nor is it a retelling of the Ramayana in any way. Being in a subordinate position to Sita routinely led women like Urmila, Manthara, Surpanakha, Mandodari, Tara and Shanta to be neglected in artistic interpretations of the epic. Ramnarayan lets them have their say, as they struggle with existential and moral battles, comparing their concerns, struggles and dilemmas with those of contemporary women. The play also raises complex questions about life and the diversity of experiences within womanhood, while seeking their answers together with the audience.

“All of them must deal with their frustrations and anxieties, make crucial decisions about right and wrong, and learn to deal with what lies in their destiny,” she says. “Yet, each does it differently, uniquely even, either making peace with their fate, or avenging oppression and injustice.” Artistes Sunandha Raghunathan, Akhila Ramnarayan, and Aarabi Veeraraghavan breathe life into the characters, while musicians Shreya Devnath and Praveen Sparsh provide live music, with lighting design by B Charles.

The play premieres at Rukmini Arangam on December 8, from 6 pm onwards. Tickets at ₹300 on

With Margazhi around the corner, we ask the three artistes what they look forward to in this edition of Chennai’s beloved “season”.

Aarabi Veeraraghavan: “My season will officially begin with What She Said on December 8, and end with a Bharatanatyam solo on January 7. We have some group productions in between as well, so I am looking forward to a month of rehearsals, learning, attending performances / lec dems and of course, catching up with friends over coffee and delicious food at the canteens.”

Sunandha Raghunathan: “This Margazhi season, I am kicked about attending a couple of kutcheris at alternative spaces. Then there are the Sabha canteens – I try to cover as many as I can, especially the ones at Music Academy, Narada Gana Sabha and Mylapore Fine Arts. I’m also conducting an acting workshop on December 21, called Enter Character Exit You. It focusses on how to build a character from the ground up, and is for all above the age of 16 regardless of acting experience.”

Akhila Ramnarayan: “I don’t really plan ahead during the season, as I enjoy an element of surprise. I try always to catch my friends in concert — Nisha Rajagopalan and Amritha Murali in particular. I also try and make it to the 2 pm music concerts at The Music Academy, to discover younger talent. Of the seniors, Vijay Siva is someone I always like to hear. The Natyakala and Natyadarshan dance conferences typically have interesting speakers. It’s nice to canteen hop too! The Sahrdaya Foundation Repertory is performing Krishna Kavyam in Sri Krishna Gana Sabha on December 27, a collaboration by Sheejith Krishna with OS Arun. As for me, I will be in conversation with Kathakali virtuouso Sadanam Balakrishnan on ‘Shakespeare in Kathakali’ at Navadhisa: New Voices in Dance, a conference curated by Apoorva Jayaraman, on December 9 at RR Sabha. He will reflect on his experience of writing the attakatha for Shakespearean classics Othello and Macbeth.”

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics Theatre
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 5:53:04 AM |

Next Story