Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blazing a theatrical trail with Draupadi

In case anyone was wondering about the week of social AWOL that preceded it, I had been immersed in this year's big theatre project: Draupadi - The Voice of Dignity. Indeed the largest production in which I have ever been involved, it was also the furthest away from my general idea of the kind of theatre in which I would be involved: music, dance, physical theatre, body paint, bodysuits, etc. Having not been an audience member myself, I can only comment on the experience of being stage-side.

Firstly, it was a huge privilege performing at the capacious and opulent Madinat Theatre. These seats would soon be packed through, and the Indian Consul General would attend one of our shows. The second show's audience was more audibly responsive than that of the first show, but I gathered that both proffered favorable reviews.

Us statues with designer and graphic artist Nivi Saha

Our makeup artists and costume designers/tailors did a fantastic job with the body paint, body suits and costumes. Especially with stage lighting, I was taken aback at just how convincing my fellow statues appeared.

(photo credit: Sarah Arfan Photgraphy)

Having to be on stage about 90% of the time, we spent most of the time on the yajna platform in stillness (but changing poses from time to time), occasionally breaking off or coordinating to act out short background scenes or be human props. Given the diversity in backgrounds and physiques of the statues, it must have been interesting to watch how each of us executed our parts (being fairly well-versed in the Mahabharata, I integrated imagery from the ongoing story into my free poses)

Classical Indian dance

(photo credit: Sarah Arfan Photgraphy)

(photo credit: Sarah Arfan Photgraphy)

The play told the story of Draupadi using both dialogue and dance theatre, focusing on her birth, her betrothal contest and marriage to all five Pandava brothers, her humiliation in the Kaurava court, and the death of her sons, the Upapandavas, in the legendary India-wide Mahabharata war. It was illustrated with spellbinding classical Indian and contemporary dance by local troupes, Tapasya and Loom Ensemble, as well as Third Half Theatre's staging of segments of a philosophical discussion between a modern-day Krishna and Krishnaa (one of Draupadi's epithets).

Although I was disappointed that the classical dancers did not wear more traditional costumes, it was a worthy sacrifice in the cause of quick costume changes, which were required in order to play different roles in different scenes. I was impressed by how, despite having to perform complex, coordinated dance sequences, the classical dancers also did a great job with acting. The show culminated in a wonderful final scene of both sets of actors/dancers performing onstage together as the ancient and modern pairing of Krishna and Draupadi.

(photo credit: Sarah Arfan Photgraphy)

And not in the least, the delightful classical/modern fusion music and singing by the Malhaar Choir, combined with Nivi Saha's glorious graphical artworks of scenes and motifs from the epic, gave a thoroughly inspiring sound and look to the production. It was hard to stay still with such great music playing right next to me, and to not move my head to watch the audio-visuals and dance. I am just so proud and honored to have been trusted with a role in this ginormous endeavor.


  1. What a wonderful experience Sohan ! No stress at all before performing on stage ? Might be difficult to keep the same position too...
    Congrats !!! :)