Always a woman

A Life Sindhu Mishra in “Naachni”.

A Life Sindhu Mishra in “Naachni”.  


“Naachni”tells of the suffering of a class in a particular time.

Set in the 1940s, the play “Naachni” is written for a female solo performer who combines the histrionic qualities of a seasoned actress and the supple body of a trained dancer steeped in classicism. She should be capable of transforming her body into a vehicle, to express complex human emotions and project social statements through emotive visual imagery.

Cast in this challenging role, Sindhu Mishra gave a mesmerising performance this past week at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, to a capacity hall. The’40s marked the fermentation of new ideas and values in the social and political history of India. Feudalism was gradually losing it predominance. The concept of entertainment was undergoing a change and so was people’s aesthetic sensibility. The Parsi companies and itinerant groups were finding it very hard to compete with the onslaught of popular cinema. In this milieu, traditional and professional artists, especially female dancers, were treated as mere commodities. The dancers became defenceless, they were condemned to live in a sordid world. Their so-called patrons were rogues and degenerates. Even in this degradation, the dancers not only survived but kept enriching their art.

Life strings

The script, by Bhanu Bharti, who has also directed the play, projects Naachni, who emerges as a creative person, out of her emotional debris, away from the vultures (in the form of sexually depraved men), affirming an artiste’s will to survive and to be in tune with the changing times and to dance to the songs of life and happiness. The playwright has not only intricately defined his protagonist but has also provided a social perspective that lends authenticity to the character.

Recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, writer-director Bhanu has invented an imaginary character, which the dancer perceives in her mind, in moments of heightened emotion and creative elevation. Through interaction with the imaginary daughter, the dramatic action begins through a flashback. This sets the basic tone of the production. In the course of her conversation with her imaginary daughter, who is probably dead, various facets of her life are revealed. Away from cities, she grows up in the mountains like a free bird, dancing spontaneously to be in tune with nature. A man abducts her and introduces her to the world of Naach (dance). Soon she becomes a craze for dance lovers at fairs. Her abductor exploits her sexually and grabs the earnings from her dance performances. Several men enter her life and most of them are mean, selfish lecherous, pompous and insincere. She has also a taste of life at the haveli of a zamindar.

Finally, she comes across a good man who employs her in his performing troupe but gets ruined because of the new means of entertainment, which ousts the old forms. In fact, Naachni embodies the sufferings of her class at a particular historical point.

Bhanu’s production is remarkable for its austerity. The Bharat Bhavan auditorium, which is designed beautifully and imaginatively, affords an opportunity to the performer and the audience to develop an intimate relationship. No “fourth wall” exists between them. The means of theatrical expression, the lighting and music, are brought into play to create the right ambience and mood. An actress and Bharatanatyam dancer as she is, Sindhu Mishra imparts deft strokes to reveal the inner agonised world of her character — her heartbreaks, humiliation and agony of a sex slave — which are juxtaposed with the feeling of tenderness, ecstasy at creation and the optimism about an artist’s capacity to assert his or her human dignity.

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