Shaniwarwada-Mismatched Battleground For The Great Indian Epic

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The 18th edition of Shaniwarwada Dance And Music Festival held much promise with 7 Classical dance styles coming together to interpret the grand Mahabharata in a unique way, using Classical dance as an idiom.

Conceptualised and choreographed by the Kathak virtuoso Pandita Shama Bhate, the production Ateet ki Parchaiyan-Mahabharat Reinterpreted, held much intrigue for all classical dance lovers. Doyens of each art form along with 22 other group dancers made for an impressive star cast.

Shamatai as she is fondly known has a formidable reputation of some excellent productions. She laid the premise of the production stating all the main characters were at the end of their lives.

They are compelled to look back and introspect at the catastrophe that has taken place. So we had 7 characters looking back at the incidents in the epic and their actions, reactions and providing insights into their inner turmoil; at times justifying their actions; at times accepting their follies.

The plot was deep and the interpretations of the contexts stark, bold and researched. Full marks to Shamatai on that front.

The 7 characters were played by seasoned artists. Odissi dancer Padsmashri Ramli Ibrahim portrayed Yudhishthir. Kathakali exponent Dr. Kannan essayed Bheeshma Kuchipudi danseuse Vyjayanti Kashi was Kunti and Mohiniattam exponent Gopika Varma was Gandhari. Senior Bharatnatyam artist Vaibhav Arekar depicted Karna while the ambitious Duryodhana was enacted by Chhau expert Rakesh Sai Babu. The all-important pivotal role of Draupadi was essayed by Kathak danseuse Ameera Patankar.

While the intention was to amalgamate the 7 styles, it was only 3 styles that got the aesthetic representations with Kathak, Bharatnatyam and Chhau groups showcasing their respective forms. All the other dances were more abhinaya or expressions based and presented as soliloquy which could have done without the restriction of a particular dance style. Needless to say, powerful performers like Dr Kannan, Ramli Ibrahim, Gopika Verma and Vyjayanti Kashi really did not get much scope to showcase the dance style, That, marked by the plot stretching into too many sub plots and the forced need to add content to each character made the production incongruent and scattered at a lot of places.

The highlight of the production was clearly the Bharatnatyam segment of Vaibhav Arekar and his 3 dancers.

The interpretations through Dance were excellently conceptualized giving one the satisfaction of the classical dance form as well as accentuating Karna’s persona. Arekar stole the show with his controlled abhinaya. A word of appreciation for the three dancers as well for the excellent body language and giving the right measure of support to Arekar.

Chhau by Rakesh Sai Babu was brilliant and his feisty team of 4 extremely well trained dancers added the much needed relief in the Dance production. Superbly executed postures, wonderful body language and an excellent portrayal of Duryodhana drew repeated applause from the audience.

Ameera Patankar, a fine dancer in her own right, held on to the poise required as Draupadi. However at a lot places she looked lost. The angst, the sadness that is expected after losing all her sons to a devious Ashwathama (a cameo that was brilliantly depicted) was sadly missing and Draupadi failed to be convincing in the overall scheme of things. She showed some moments of spark in her interactions with Karna but she being, the chief protagonist in this Interpretation, she somehow did not seem to command the scenes.

The group of Kathak dancers that were to provide the Dance relief in between the scenes were all well trained, no doubt. However the pieces were too brief, too repetitive, and at places lacked coordination.

The white screen on the stage was meant to depict flashback. However the scenes were unnecessary and repetitive with the same being enacted on the main stage as well. The music oscillated from grave, somber and pleasing alaapis to dance bolas which were all apt and enjoyable. But the songs were sounding too popular and did jar.

Like Bheeshma’s role being depicted by Kathakali was a complete mismatch to the literal Hindi words set to popular sounding tune. The grandiosity of Kathakali was felled by it as was the statuesque character of Bheeshma.

Overall a very ambitious project and full marks to its creator Shamatai for the concept. However the execution could do with some makeovers.

I think a last word here about the venue would be prudent. The majestic Shaniwarwada may seem the ideal backdrop for most but for Dance showcases it’s not so well matched. The nature of its size and shape allows very limited good viewing, leaving the sides exposed to the audience which serves as distraction.

Poor visibility also led to boredom for many in the audience, the late start aside.


#All views expressed in this article are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same.

Shumita Mahajan

Shumita Mahajan

Shumita Mahajan, an established name in the field of Dance, Features and Marketing Communication, has over 2 decades experience in Media, Communication and Critique of Performing Arts.
Shumita Mahajan