We Draupadis & Sitas

Wed 3rd – Tue 16th August 2011

reviews

Natalya Din-Kariuki

at 10:05 on 15th Aug 2011

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"We Draupadi's and Sitas", written and directed by Shomshuklla, claims to be a rewriting of the Indian epics The Ramayana and The Mahabaharata from the perspective of a modern woman. Although its premise is conceptually brilliant, this production unfortunately fails to completely fulfill its potential: rewriting myth is, after all, a bold and empowering move. Performed in the intimate space of a studio at the Edinburgh College of Art, this production is visually stunning - the women wear richly elaborate Indian costumes, complete with bangles, bindis and rings, every detail aiding in making the characters larger than life. The set is beautiful in its simplicity: the three women sit on a carpet under spotlights, gracefully rising and weaving about the stage to tell their stories - as Draupadi and Sita - in turn. The intimacy of the space makes the audience feel trusted and confided in as the three actors conspiratorially lean in, making surprisingly powerful eye contact all the while.

The production starts slowly, providing context for the epics and explaining Shomshuklla's intentions before diving in to the stories - and possible modern reinterpretated stories - of each woman. The actors possess great stage presence, and Sohini Mukherjee (as Draupadi) and Malvika Jethwani (as Sita) meet the challenge of embodying the beautiful and royal women of mythology in human form head-on. At particular points in the performance, the women sing music by Rabindranath Tagore (a Nobel Laureate) which further immerses the audience in Indian culture and breaks up the monotony of the story-telling set-up. There are many brilliant things about this production, but its weaknesses lie in predominantly inadequate direction and its theoretically problematic script. The production fails to take advantage of the potential of the actors to work as a group - instead, the performance is set up as a series of monologues with little dialogue and interaction between the women. The rare instances in which they do interact - such as Jethwani leaning on Mukherjee's shoulder - are thrilling, as if some sort of personal and historical barrier has been broken. The actors' movement frequently seems gratuitous and wandering, lacking real intention - tighter direction and more innovative physical movement could fundamentally ameliorate the flaws of this production, allowing this script and talented cast to flourish. The script's feminist re-writing of the epics fails to root itself in a particular feminist approach, sending mixed messages - which include the propagation of gender stereotypes - as a result. The women regretfully discuss "hero worship", recognising (as did feminist theory in the 90s) that masculinity is a construct predicated upon female submission. It also claims that a modern-day Sita would return to "mother Earth" and not to a man, a statement which sounds suspiciously like the now-abolished misogynistic "Sati" tradition.

Kali Theatre's production is one that intrigues and delights, and the whole group clearly have the potential to take their work further - a critical re-writing of the script and more focused direction would really do justice to the Draupadi and Sita of mythic lore.

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Rhiannon Kelly

at 11:24 on 15th Aug 2011

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The hideously patriarchal and misogynistic undertones of many myths, especially ‘The Ramayana’ and ‘The Mahabaharata’ have always struck me, so I was intrigued by the prospect of this modern reworking by Kali Theatre. The performers retold the ancient stories with great confidence and conviction, but with such epic material at their feet, I expected a lot more.

‘We Draupadi’s and Sitas’ highlights the discrimination faced by the female protagonists of both myths, and their plights are narrated sensitively, but I was unsure of what the company were trying to say. Promised a “visual, musical and intellectual treat” I was looking forward to the prospect of being immersed in Indian culture, interweaving the two tales, contemporising their situations and questioning the role of woman both in the past, present and future. Perhaps I was asking for too much. They narrated the two tales to the audience, but didn’t do much else with the stories. Yes, they questioned the role of women, but it was so literal it was just scratching the surface, as one performer points out: “the society was patriarchal and the depiction of women one sided” - I know. I wanted to be told something I didn’t.

Despite this, the three performers did have an elegant air of self-assurance, as they lounged on the rugs and sensually drifted round the stage, you could almost feel the sexual energy oozing from their beings. Their impassioned narration and piercing gazes did have me engaged from start to finish; I just felt that their message was confused and not as developed as it could have been. At times the company are prey to committing the same oversimplification of gender issues that the play is apparently out to dispel. Draupadi tells us that most men are like Arjuna (ambitious and selfish) and not enough are like Bhima (quiet and intellectual) because if they were, “we wouldn’t need marriage counsellors or physciatrists!” Isn’t this pigeonholing men in the same way that Draupadi and Sita are?

The drapes around the set and the outfits worn by the three women were stunning, as was the enchanting recurring song that Shomshuklla and Malvika Jethwani recited. It was a visual treat, but they could have gone even further with immersing us in the world of the stories. I would like to have seen more interaction between the performers, and more music incorporated into the production. The monologues delivered were both strong and tender, although some obscure comparisons with modern life (Drauapadi writing a letter being “like sending an email”) was occasionally awkward.

The concept of the production is strong, as are the performers in the company. ‘We Draupadi’s and Sitas’ just needs more of an artistic vision to fully bring out the themes they are trying to explore.

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