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  7 dance forms meld together to retell the Mahabharata

7 dance forms meld together to retell the Mahabharata

Published : Nov 5, 2015, 12:10 am IST
Updated : Nov 5, 2015, 12:10 am IST

The great war of the Mahabharata has ended and each character is looking back and introspecting, analysing. “Was what I did the reason this destruction happened

Shama Bhate during a talk at Kathak Kendra in New Delhi on Tuesday.
 Shama Bhate during a talk at Kathak Kendra in New Delhi on Tuesday.

The great war of the Mahabharata has ended and each character is looking back and introspecting, analysing. “Was what I did the reason this destruction happened Could it all have been avoided ” they ask themselves. These critical ruminations are executed through powerful dances, strong music and exquisite expressions in the dance-drama Ateet ki Parchaiyyan, a reinterpretation of the epic Mahabharata which uses a meld of seven Indian classical dances.

Ateet ki Parchhaiyan was performed on November 4 at the India International Centre as a part of the IIC’s annual festival. Each character in the production, set in a point where all the characters are at the end of their lives, uses a different Indian classical dance idiom to portray her role. The drama is centred around Draupadi. “The working title was I played a role too. As an introspection, every character felt responsible for the deaths and destruction that happened. The Mahabharata is about internal conflict, which will always exist. I wanted to show these conflicts and the inner capabilities. I see such internal conflicts in everyday life. I think it is an eternal story,” said Shama Bhate, the director of this ambitious creation which was first performed in February 2014 in Pune.


Dance critic Leela Venkataraman, who had witnessed the performance when it was performed in Pune, said, “What struck me was the tremendous attention to detail, without which such a production would not be possible. The dancers have no ego hassles, and it showed on stage. I think it was beautifully done — the transitions were without jerks, there was a flow and there was so much give and take between the dancers.”

“Every Indian artiste wants to touch the Mahabharata at one time or the other. I wanted to do it for a very long time, but I didn’t have the courage to undertake the epic because it is such a vast spectrum. When I was celebrating my institute Nad-Roop’s silver jubilee, this idea resurfaced and I thought perhaps it was time,” said Ms Bhate, 65, a kathak dancer for more than 50 years.


The amalgamation of dance forms in one story is bound to be exciting. Each dance form has a different tempo, a different aesthetic, different music and different costumes. “I could choose this format because everyone is familiar with the Mahabharata. The different dance forms gave colour, variety and also an identity to each character. I also wanted to introduce a regional element with each character, which came with the different dance forms,” said Ms Bhate. “I first chose the characters, then the dance styles that fit those characters and then later came the choice of dancers.”

The production, primarily a dance performance, uses drama to portray the story. Ms Bhate chose a narrative and poetry to keep the flow and reach the audience.The entire story is woven together beautifully with the use of kathak, the idiom used as fillers in collusion with music. Ms Bhate created the script, and broke it down to the very last second, and explained it to the dancers. Each individual role has been choreographed by the respective dancer.


“When Shama didi came to me, I was overwhelmed. I love Kunti. The most difficult part was time — I had to tell 30 important points in a 27 second bit! kuchipudi is a leisurely dance form, but I had to present it in such a short time. It was a learning process,” said Vyjayanthi Kashi who plays Kunti.

A similar sentiment was echoed by the production’s Gandhari, played by Gopika Varma through the idiom of mohiniattam. “mohiniattam is a slow-paced dance. She (Ms Bhate) gave me 2.5 minutes after a lot of arguments! Using only music and abhinaya to bring out emotions was a difficult process, but I learnt to tell the story precisely through this production,” she said. “We were learnt how to reach the audience without diluting out dance form.”


A critical and tricky element for this production was the music. “I wanted to use authentic music with each dance form. Each dance form has a different style of music. Narendra Bhide has homogenised the music very well,” said Ms Bhate. The same rule applied for the costumes — keeping the authenticity while bringing homogeneity. “We read a lot of interpretations. We had to make the costumes relevant to 2015 keeping in mind that we did not want to be decked up because we are dancers,” said Ms Bhate, a disciple of Rohini Bhate.

Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi