Rajashree Praharaj’s dedication and sacrifice has been the reason for her meteoric rise in the field of Odissi. Having mastered technical virtuosity in her subject, she has been straining every nerve to walk the extra mile in abhinaya too. After all Indian traditional dance not only comprises of nritta (pure dance) but also includes nritya (miming) and natya (drama).
In a recent event at Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar Rajashree Praharaj had a plethora of opportunities to prove her mettle at abhinaya in Tyaga — the subject of which was chosen by mentor Ratikant Mohapatra who is also responsible for choreographing it, in his own inimitable style.
With his immense first-hand knowledge about Geetinatyas from early childhood — both parents of Ratikant Mohapatra came from Annapurna theatre background — Ratikant has further honed his skills in dramaturgy too.
Nothing succeeds like success. Since I last saw Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar Awardee, Praharaj in the role of the all-sacrificing Anusuya in the Tyaga of 2016, her acting abilities have increased by leaps and bounds, when I had the opportunity to see her recently.
Her emotive quality especially when she went to the temple with love thoughts about her impending marriage to a prince was fittingly mirrored by her expressions. The shock that came to her when she was told that the garland she had given to the leper beggar was meant for her would be husband was poignantly enacted. In the acceptance of the inevitable, she had dignity.
Like Anusuya’s Tyaga,Praharaj’s life has also been one of sacrifice. Coming from a background, where dancing was taboo, her path in becoming one, was beset with insurmountable impediments. But her love and passion for dance far exceeded everything else.
It was her first priority and remains so till date. Days after International Women’s Day, this petite and vivacious woman made a successful Odissi presentation based on the tradition of Odia Geetinatya. Behind her success was the role played by her mentor Ratikant Mohapatra.
Though the kind of sacrifice that Anasuya made would tantamount to profanity to a woman of today’s sensibilities, yet there is one lesson to take from it. That no matter what sacrifice has its own merits.
From princess Anusuya we learn the value of acceptance, devotion and sacrifice. A date with destiny made Princess Anusuya marry a leper, who desired Lakhyaheera, whose fees of one lakh diamonds for a night, could be paid by the king alone.
The devout wife Anusuya, to meet the demands of her husband, offered to sell her body to the king to earn one lakh diamonds to pay Lakhyaheera. The sacrifice of the devoted wife brought about a change in her husband who realised her nobility and underwent a transformation.
Like Anusuya, Praharaj’s devotion, duty and sacrifice for Odissi is indeed her reward and satisfaction. Tyaga drew heavily from the theatrical elements of Odia Geetinatya based on the moving tale of Lakhyaheera written by the noted dramatist of Odisha, the late Kartick Ghosh.
The unparalleled music composition of the piece by Lakshmikant Palit had the typical Geetinatya style. Jaydev Das had displayed a great deal of creativity in scripting the drama. Narrations to make the story progress by the group dancers, with the character artists moving out soon after, reminded this reviewer of the style used by Rabindranath Tagore in dance-dramas and musicals such as Chitrangada, Shyama, Shap Mochan and others.
The scripting facilitated the work of the choreographer who made the drama spectacular. Debi Prasad Mishra is a young and serious light designer, deeply involved in doing higher studies in the art of lighting and he made the drama come alive. Stage lighting moved with the drama seamlessly, highlighting incidents where ever needed and tapering off when required.
Aditya Mahapatra’s deep and full-throated voice did justice to the narrations. The strong musical accompaniment responsible for the success of the programme was by Rabi Shankar Pradhan on sitar, violinists Prabir Das, Soumitra Byapari and Agnimitra Behera wove magic in creating sombre rhythms — music of approaching dawn, happy music and music that brought bewilderment. Flautist Srinibas Satpathy added to the melody of the ensemble. Bhabotosh Mohanty played bass guitar and Bibhu Prasad Mohanty was on the synthesizer.
Sanjay Kumar fitted very well into the role of Bishnu Das, the leper, for whom a wife like Princess Anasuya was a windfall gain. Sanjay Kumar was also a part of the group dance sequences playing the part of Sutradhara.
Aishwariya Singhdeo was Lakhyaheera, who displayed her haughty quality as and when her role demanded. Preetisha Mohapatra is an all round dancer, good in nritta as well as abhinaya.
She won the hearts of the people as the king who had no inhibition in desiring Lakhyapriya. Sipra Swain as the Rishi evoked bhakti. Pragna Paromita Das and Riyanka Chakraborty as part of the Sutradhara group excelled.
The highly stylised body movements of the dancers along with hand gestures and facial expressions are the hallmarks of Srjan repertory members thanks to their strict disciplinarian Guru Ratikant Mohapatra.