Friday Review

Tale of a warrior princess

A scene from the performance Photo Sudip Dhara.   | Photo Credit: 08dfrnitasudip2

It was indeed a rare opportunity and a privilege to watch a performance by the staff members and students of the Sangeet Bhawan, Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan in the city. Rabindranath Tagore’s dance drama “Chitrangada”, staged at the Tollygunge Club in Kolkata, was made possible by Happenings.

Based on a story from the Mahabharata, “Chitrangada” was one of the three dramas, which was the outcome of the poet’s desire to enact stories through dance in his later years and he named them “Nritya-Natya”.

Chitrangada’s story is set against the backdrop of Manipur. The King was bestowed with a boon by Lord Shiva that only sons would be born in his family. So when Chitrangada was born, the King brought her up as his son training her in warfare, archery, polity and politics – well-equipped to take over the responsibilities of the King.

The play unfolds at a time when Arjun on his 12-year vow of celibacy comes wandering to Manipur and meets Chitrangada, dressed as a man, on a hunting spree with her friends. Considering them to be young boys, Arjun makes fun of their abilities. This enrages Chitrangada and she invites him for a fight but Arjun ignores her. This disturbs Chitrangada as she discovers the woman in her and falls in love with Arjun, only to be refused.

The songs “Ami tomare koribo nibedan’(I’ll offer myself to you) by Chitrangada and “Kshama Karo morey” (Pardon me) by Arjun at this point were communicated through appealing Manipuri movements. The Princess’ pride is shattered. She approaches Madan (the God of Love) to transform her into a beautiful woman (Surupa) in order to entice Arjun. The dialogue between Madan and Chitrangada (Kurupa) “Tai ami dinu bor” was well portrayed but the transformation of Kurupa (ugly one) to Surupa (beautiful one) could have been more imaginatively composed.

Awestruck by the beauty of (transformed) Chitrangada, Arjun falls for her. When marauders attack Manipur, Chitrangada dressed as a warrior protects the villagers. Arjun astonished by her fighting skills wishes to meet the warrior Princess only to discover the real Chitrangada. He wishes to marry her but Chitrangada alerts him that she is “Rajendranandini, a princess”, neither a Devi nor an ordinary woman. She wants to be equal to her man, not otherwise.

Tagore’s concern over the woman’s identity and her position in society were the essence of the play and the song “Ami Chitrangada” is pivotal as is the powerful chorus “Santrashero Biwbhalata nijerey apaman”. Surprisingly both the dancing and the singing of “Ami Chitrangada” lacked the verve and impact of the effective “Ami” (I am).

The prelude “Mohinimaya elo” sung in chorus before the curtain goes up is always a pleasure to hear. The opening group dance “Guru Guru”, sprinkled with Kathakali movements, was a vibrant opening. Equally captivating were “Jharnemey aye” and the romantic duet “Ketechhey akela birohero bela”.

Dance director Basanta Mukherjee incorporated Kathakali and Manipuri movements sprinkled with Bharatanatyam which blended smoothly into the Rabindrik styles. Both Surupa and Kurupa were good Manipuri dancers but the best was Madan. Though facial expressions were limited, the production boasts of fine team work and discipline among the large (38) cast and crew.

Sangeet Bhawan takes pride not only in rendering songs in the authentic Santiniketan style but also in designing simple yet vibrant and attractive painted sets and costumes with alpana-type designs on card-boards and stiff paper in keeping with its undiluted tradition. A characteristic feature of the costumes is the number of ordhnis (cloth bands) tied neatly into bows round the waists of the dancers. Produced and directed by Indrani Mukhopadyay, Principal of Sangeet Bhawan, the magnificent singing rules over the dancing and drama in the production.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 8:35:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Tale-of-a-warrior-princess/article14475998.ece

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