Dancing to the feminist theme

Musical opera Menaka was marked by creative expression.

Musical opera Menaka was marked by creative expression.   | Photo Credit: Photo : H. Satish


Tales from Puranas drive the message of feminism in Bharatanatyam format.

The familiar mythology of Menaka and Vishwamitra, Shankuntala and Dushyantha and the lesser known tale of Mamatha and Brihaspathi retold through Bharatanatyam is what makes for the theatrical production Menakaa staged at Ravindra Bharati to a capacity audience.

It was a musical opera strung with the thread of impeccable English narrative interspersed with Sanskrit slokas. The beauty of Sanskrit lies in it being able to blend with any foreign language not to talk of its Indian derivatives. Rajeswari Sainath and troupe comprised the dance component to this presentation. The plus point first — excellent background music by B.V. Balasai with clarity oozing out of every musical instrument formed the backbone of Menaka.

Dramatic tools like female sutradaar to mime and dance to the brilliant narration in English as well as Sanskrit (by Kalpana Kannabiran and Sagari R. Ramdas), the change in attire from the traditional dance costumes (though a little more care could have gone into the choice of fabric), the ingenuity of supplementing the male counterparts (who do not appear in person at all) through creative expression and dance dialogue- all these have gone into making the production rich in artistry.

From a critical point of view: the Menaka episode in no way undermines the dignity of womanhood. The constant refrain of ‘violence’ articulated any number of times in the narrative, by the males in the three incidents portrayed did not find an echo in the characters of Menaka or Mamatha.

To a certain extent, it was Shakuntala who could be seen as someone used and dumped in a predominantly male world of her times. But the principal protagonist Menaka, by no stretch of imagination, can be seen as a victim of male domination or neglect. Her character and role are clear and well delineated: to upset Vishwamitra’s penance and lure him into momentary thirst for lust.

With that her assignment comes to an end. Further she is pronounced ‘celestial’ creature and so the norms of earth do not apply to her.

Menaka goes one step above mortals in abandoning her infant in the woods and getting along with her ‘profession.’ So is the case with Rambha. The case of Mamatha and Brishaspati, is to be viewed as continuity of genealogy rather than seduction and abuse. How do we look at the concept of surrogate mothers now?

The rest is for you to analyse. But can we apply twenty-first century norms to the Puranas? Asmita’s (run by Vasant Kannabiran, the author of the ballet) purpose may be creditable but in the end

Menaka fails to impress. Rajeswari Sainath as Menaka, Vaishnavi Sainath as Shakuntala, Ashrita as Mamatha, Krithika as Rambha and Nainitha as the Sutradaarini were good. Footwork delineations to swara and pure music and pronounced jatis alternatively enhanced the choreography. In group movements as a whole, clarity and sync marked the well discernable patterns.

N.S. Yamuna’s directorial abilities and Kaaraikkudi Mani’s choreographic expertise were very much to the fore.

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