A meaningful three-day festival, Pratibimb, was presented by Inner Eye Communications at the GD Birla Sabhagar recently to celebrate the spirit of womanhood through theatre and dance. It was inaugurated by Jaya Bachchan and opened with felicitating theatre personality Usha Ganguly for her contribution to women-centric theatre.
Reflections of women in theatre began through three monologues — No ordinary love performed by festival director and young actor Shahana Chatterjee, exploring the mindscape of Nati Binodini, and written by Sharmila Maitra in Bengali; Meerabai in Hindi, scripted by Jayabrata Chatterjee; and Chitra — Tagore&’s own English translation of Chitrangada. Her entry and selfintroduction with a mask was dramatic against the backdrop of live jatra type by Soumayojit Das and Sourendra Mullick, ushering in her narration of Binodini&’s life. She looked gorgeous and beautiful, with a shocking pink Benarasi sari draped stylishly — partly over her black body-suit that allowed her the freedom to support her narration with body language. Her costume remained equally attractive in Meerabai, and Chitra.
Though comfortable in three languages while switching costumes and personalities easily, Nati Binodini remained her best performance. Meerabai lacked depth and Chitra the vigour. However, the music, with piano and bass guitar in good measure, appealed, as did the jazz flavour in Chitra. On the second evening, Usha Ganguly presented one of her most impactful and iconic plays. Hum Muktara, based on the gang rape of Mukhtar Mai, who chose to fight back and singlehandedly changed the course of the feminine movement in Pakistan. Once again Ganguly held her own extremely well to justify her role as the sutradhar.
The star attraction of the festival was the riveting dance theatre, A Million Sitas, performed in contemporary dance based on a Bharatanatyam foundation by celebrated dancer, writer, speaker, arts entrepreneur and culture mentor Anita Ratnam from Chennai. It had a different take on King Janaka&’s daughter viewed as the meek, selfless, sacrificing wife of Lord Rama. Sita becomes the central figure and link connecting five other pivotal female characters from the Ramayana — Ahalya, Manthara, Shabari, Surpanakha and Mandodari — all of them with strong identities. Instead of following the popular Valmiki, Tulasi or Kamban versions of the story, Anita researched and drew from lesser-known retellings of the Ramayana in Kannada, Tamil, Telegu, Himachali, Odia and Bengali — much of it from women&’s oral traditions. She even adapted from the Thai and Indonesian versions.
These accounted for the unusual portrayals and situations depicted. So Manthara transformed into a butterfly and Surpanakha a field marshal in Ravana&’s army. The language was also unconventional — English with a sprinkling of Sanskrit, Telegu, Kannada and Tamil. The thought-provoking exploration of relationships with Sita seamlessly encompassed dance-theatre, mime, storytelling, conversation and movement and emerged as an exceptional study of mythology&’s most misunderstood protagonist. As the story unfolded, the audience was awestuck by the visual character of the ambivalence between dramaturgy and theatre. Kalari, Kathakali, Qi Jong, yoga, meditation, including movements in silence, and Tai Chi all went into the choreography by Ratnam and Hari Krishnan.