Draupadi re-visited


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My first experience of watching a play in Bangalore and I’m glad it turned out good. In hindsight, the last time I saw a play was two years back during our college fest, when we were forced to watch the rehearsals lest we lose our attendance.
Well, it’s not that I’m not interested in watching plays. Just that I’m too lazy to brush off the rust of complacency that has formed around me ever since I started reading plays. It’s a shame I never saw a play when I was in Delhi, apparently the hub of drama and theater. Whenever I got a chance, something or the other came along to prevent me from watching the play (my own laziness being the prime reason, I confess). This time, too, I nearly missed watching this one due to multiple reasons I wouldn’t want to dwell on. Let’s just say we somehow made it to the play and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Here’s something about the play first before I begin my critique:
Name of the play:           Draupadi—Will my spirit live on?
Language:                       English
Duration:                        90 minutes
Directed by:                   Tina Johnson and Shivani Pasrich
Music by:                       Shubha Mudgal
Costumes by:                 Ritu Kumar
Sets:                              Aman Nath
Venue:                          Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Malleswaram
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Synopsis:
Centuries have gone by since the Mahabharat war, yet Draupadi is still here. Stuck between heaven and earth, roaming the streets and pondering her fate and her choices, her only confidant is Lord Krishna. She tries to resolve with him why women must continue to suffer as she had in the past. Krishna, the orchestrator of fate, leads her to Maaya – a woman of today, who has suffered much abuse at the hands of society. A distraught Maaya attempts suicide, but Draupadi stops her and offers her help in return for a favor.
Maaya treads through her life in Draupadi’s footsteps, and in the end she too must make a choice- will she choose revenge or resilience? Will she be Draupadi’s salvation? Will Krishna be able to address centuries old smoldering wounds?
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Choosing the Mahabharata as the core of a story in any form (play, prose or poetry) is always an intelligent yet risky thing to do. Intelligent because, even after centuries have passed since the writing of the great epic, it still offers multiple aspects to explore and re-visit, Draupadi’s humiliation and the great war that followed being the central theme of this play. Risky because the audience, it is assumed, already knows the entire plot. Hence, one can’t really mess around with the basic structure of the story. So, it’s a challenge to tell a story whose plot is already known, and re-tell it in a manner that’s new, different, and contextualize it in the contemporary context. In so far as this play is concerned, the challenge has been met with much alacrity and finesse.
As the synopsis suggested, the play revolves around the spirit of Draupadi (played gracefully by Shivani Pasrich) who has been cursed of wandering between heaven and hell as a punishment for having caused the Kurukshetra War and can achieve moksha only if she rescues a woman Maaya (played by Charu Shankar) from being similarly victimized by patriarchal forces of society. Though the modern context is entirely different, the sense of victimhood is largely the same. Pasrich, who is a trained Odissi dancer and has also conceptualized the play, has incorporated dance sequences within the play at right intervals to add the required musical touch to it. Mudgal’s music is easily recognizable and her powerful voice fits in well with the situational demands of the play.
It’s interesting how the scriptwriters have de-constructed the character of Lord Krishna, the giver of wisdom. In the epic, Krishna is the lone supporter of Paanchali throughout her period of trials and imparts wisdom from time to time to her and the Pandavas. In the play, Krishna (played by Dilip Shankar) is shown in multiple roles (a sweeper, a sariseller, a wanderer, and even a lawyer) who enrages Draupadi and instructsher to help Maaya, a woman of today, who is in a similar situation of complete victimization and exploitation, if she wants moksha. Some of the best, most dramatic and memorable speeches are reserved for Krishna and he plays the role with extreme brilliance, spontaneity and witty humor. Some lines from the Bhagvad Gita are timeless. And these are cleverly re-iterated in the play. For instance,  Let not the fruits of action be thy motive
The play succeeds in conveying the message of how an individual is responsible for his/her own consequence that is directly related to his/her actions. If Draupadi represents the woman who was wronged and humiliated, she is also revenge personified. Her anger, her pride at her lineage and her persistent desire for vengeance are traits of her personality that are equally given importance in the play that eventually prevent Maaya from repeating the historical mistakes that Draupadi committed—fuel the fire for another war. Ninety minutes is a deceptively long time for a play that has the task of not only refreshing the audience’s mind with what Draupadi underwent mythologically but also depict Maaya’s character in a similar context. The play has a fast pace, and rightly so. It’s a thumbs up from me.
Pictures courtesy India Stage
Rating: **** (4 stars)

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