Friday, Dec 14, 2018 | Last Update : 03:50 AM IST

Sairandhari: The modern maid

THE ASIAN AGE. | SANDIP SOPARRKAR
Published : Mar 13, 2018, 3:44 am IST
Updated : Mar 13, 2018, 3:46 am IST

If you think that it was yet another classical dance show where traditional dances were used to showcase the epic, you are wrong.

I am glad that I was part of a unique show, Sairandhari: The Musical by Neha Banerjee. Neha is a Kathak exponent, having learnt under  the guidance of legend  Padma Vibhushan Pt Birju Maharaj and Sheila Mehta.
 I am glad that I was part of a unique show, Sairandhari: The Musical by Neha Banerjee. Neha is a Kathak exponent, having learnt under the guidance of legend Padma Vibhushan Pt Birju Maharaj and Sheila Mehta.

Dr Uma Rele, the super-talented and dynamic principal of Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidhyala, choreographed Draupadi’s life then, using the nuances of Kathak and Bharatanatyam. On the other hand, Vipin Kumar Kushwaha, along with Ankita Dolawat and Aditi Deshpande, planned Draupadi’s life now using international dance forms like waltz, rumba, tango, aerial silk, contemporary, hip hop, broadway, jazz and more.

Mahabharata has forever been a source of inspiration for dancers.  Innumerable shows and choreographies based on the epic story have emerged every now and then. Every character in the classic has inspired dancers the world over, each person in the mythological tale has his or her own positive and negative shades which brings interesting twists and turns to dance works. One such character is the leading lady of Mahabharata — Draupadi.

I am glad that I was part of a unique show, Sairandhari — The Musical by Neha Banerjee. Neha is a Kathak exponent, having learnt under the guidance of legend Padma Vibhushan Pt Birju Maharaj and Sheila Mehta. Sairandhari was the idea of Neha where the life of Draupadi was presented through Indian classical dances, Kathak and Bharatanatyam. 

If you think that it was yet another classical dance show where traditional dances were used to showcase the epic, you are wrong. It was nothing stereotype; it was talking of various episodes of Draupadi’s life but at the same time comparing it to today. Neha very ably played Draupadi then and Draupadi (women) now and I played the role of the dominating the male ego that always tries best to put the women down in each sphere of life.

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Dr Uma Rele, the super-talented and dynamic principal of Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidhyala, choreographed Draupadi’s life then, using the nuances of Kathak and Bharatanatyam. On the other hand, Vipin Kumar Kushwaha, along with Ankita Dolawat and Aditi Deshpande, planned Draupadi’s life now using international dance forms like waltz, rumba, tango, aerial silk, contemporary, hip hop, broadway, jazz and more.

The show had five important phases of Draupadi’s life, starting with her utpatti (birth) where through classical dances Dr. Rele showed how Draupadi was born out of fire and got her name agniputri (one who is born out of fire) and on the other hand, the modern take spoke about how after birth a girl child is put into fire. She is agniputri in both the times, one where she is born out of fire and the other she is put into the fire. So has Draupadi’s (women) life become better than before? 

Moving to the youth: The gorgeous, doe-eyed Draupadi weds Arjuna and is given no choice by her mother-in-law who says, “Baant lo” (divide among yourselves) and she becomes Panchali (one who has five husbands) and today too she has no choice, no choice of career, marriage, children, clothes etc. So has Draupadi’s (women) life become better than before?

The third phase was the time when her maryada (dignity and self-esteem) was tested and cheerharan (disrobing) took place. Lord Krishna came to help and rescue her whereas today a woman is brutally molested, teased, raped, gangraped, killed and murdered and thrown on the street like garbage. So has Draupadi’s (women) life become better than before?

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Another phase when during agyatvaas (exile) while she worked as Virata kingdom’s queen Sudeshna’s hairstylist, Sudeshna’s brother Keechak insulted her comparing a sairandhari (maid) to a prostitute. Today, a woman is disrespected and loose words are spoken about her, addressing a women as a slut, a bitch and a whore is common modern language. So has Draupadi’s (women) life become better than before?  The last part was the mahaprasthanam (the great journey to moksha) where the five powerful husbands don’t even turn and look back at her when she slips and falls. And today too, after a woman dies, a man brings in a new bride within a few days whereas when a man dies, the woman must remain a widow for life neither having the right to dress in colour nor meet anyone other than god. So has Draupadi’s (women) life become better than before?      

I asked Neha as to what inspired her to conceive this one-of-its-kind show and she said, “I was reading an interesting book called Palace of Illusion and it made me look at Draupadi’s life in a very different manner and then whenever I would pick up newspapers and read about girl foeticide, rape, molestation, child marriage, widows of Vrindavan, my heart would always ask a question: Has my life ( as a woman) become better or worse? This question gave me sleepless nights and that is when I decided to make this show and ask the same question to the people of my country.’

The show’s light designing has been done by Sangeet Natak Akadami awardee Gyan Dev Singh, music is by Vivek Mishra while poster design is by Akash Kumbhar. A number of musicians gave their time for this show, including Ganesh Sawant on pakhawaj, Aparna Deodhar on sitar, Bhaskar Das on flute, Sandeep Mishra on sarangi with vocals by Shalini Sinha and Omkar Patil. Costumes were by Sidney Sladen while the show was managed by Parul Chawla and Satish Jupiter. The show’s executive producer was Aditi Kapadia and backstage management was organised by Jameel Shah. 

The show opened in Chennai and Mumbai with houseful audience and will now be travelling to Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata, London, New York, Paris and many more cities.                                                                

This hard-hitting and extremely bold show speaks nothing but the truth about the life of Draupadi then and compares it to her present life, leaving the audience with the same question that haunts Neha even today. Has Draupadi’s life become  better or worse? Is a woman a man’s ardhangini (equal half) or is she his better half? Is a woman meant to be loved by the man or is she his sairandhri (maid)? These are some important questions which we all need to ask ourselves today. Even if you have not seen the show, I hope you will be able to find answers for yourself and make the place we live in better for both women and men.

Sandip Soparrkar is a world book record holder, a well known ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with two National Excellence awards and one National Achievement Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on sandipsoparrkar06@gmail.com.                

Tags: bharatanatyam, ankita dolawat, mahavidhyala, mahaprasthanam