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In the darkness, a pair of feet adorned with ghungroos stormed onto the stage. Against the raging fire in the background, a nayika had vengence in her eyes. With fluid legwork, she repeated, "Sita was just my bait. It was me, no other. Not my brother." She was Surpanakha. On Friday evening, the heady weather played accomplice to the many faces of Surpanakha that was performed by Kolkata-based kathak dancer, Ashavari Majumdar. Simply titled "Kathak", the performance at India Habitat Centre was inspired by AK Ramanujan's 300 Ramayana and Kathleen M Erndl's Mutilation of Surpankha. Aided by India Foundation of Arts in Bangalore, this "experimental" piece is a way for her to step beyond the terrains of just dance. "It's a way to look at theatre, visuals and play with mediums such as shadow puppetery and tribal music," says the 32-year-old, who trained under Pt Shambhu Maharaj and Pt Birju Maharaj. The piece was performed for the first time in Delhi.
Donning a simple silk blouse and lehenga, with an occassional black robe to distinguish Surpanakha from other characters, like Sita and Rama, Majumdar addressed the audience, travelling to and fro through dialogues and dance in three sections. The first one depicted a vengeful Surpanakha, who incites Ravana because he had killed her husband. The second piece was a representation of Sita and Surpanakha as two sides of the same coin. The third depicted the relationship between Rama and Surpanakha as an erotic encounter.
"I always thought of Ramayana as a simplistic and moralistic story. But after reading about the different versions, it came across as a subversive one. Surpanakha, has been portrayed as vindictive by Valmiki. But in another version, she also challenges patriarchy," says Majumdar.
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