There is a sense of appealing timelessness about epics particularly, the Ramayana. As part of the Kutty Kutchery series, Rasoham and Arangam Trust presented ‘A million Sitas’ at the Narthaki studio. The expanse of the lawn became the stage and the garden also lent itself beautifully to become the entry and exit points, as also to become the extended “different scene/ different location” metaphor.
That Anita Ratnam was at home sank in deeply — for three decades and three years, I have watched her in various avatars, and in this performance, she brought together all her life experiences. As she symbolically filled the cauldron of Sita, I felt an overwhelming sense of being that woman from the audience who was once called Sita.
Uma Satyanarayana as the younger woman added layers to the pace set by Anita, and as she acted and sang, conversing with the older woman, there was the gap they bridged in their understanding of women.
As someone passionate about theatre, I feel emotion and dialogue delivery are important. What appealed the most in ‘A Million Sitas’, which was staged in a longer version at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, was the absence of the “cultivated accent”, and what caught one’s attention was the manner in which the two artistes got under the skin of the characters. The two artistes shared an easy camaraderie on stage.
Many of us would have watched this production before, yet it retains its appeal because the performance represents the fact that Sita herself continues to evolve — from child bride, princess, hermit and a woman abducted to being a woman deserted and a single mother.
The interweaving was complete at various levels — the stage itself was the finest representation of the Outside and the Inside (especially when performed at the studio space). And, this played out in the characters as they internalised and then expressed externally.
Even though participatory theatre would involve direct dialogues from the audience, this too felt participatory because there were many unspoken questions, comments and dialogues from the audience. This was a fine example of contemporary theatre from the point of view of dialogues, props, costumes, stage and the narrative itself.
Travelling internally and externally are crucial for growth. To observe, absorb and adapt jewellery, costumes and stories from across cultures and pour in those influences with an understanding and sensibility definitely call for experience, not just exposure. And Anita has both in abundance.
The use of props and the collectibles from different parts of the world spoke about a global outlook that will also make it more inclusive to audiences everywhere.
Among the more interesting props was a long-stemmed lotus, which doubled up as a walking stick or a Chettinad basket, which when placed over a bent Mantara became the hunch.
The 10 baskets with 10 mangoes lent a sense of boundary, symbolising different cities and the bridge to reach Lanka.
The interpretation of the 10 pairs of eyes to reference Ravana also reminded one of Indra, who was cursed by Ahalya.
In their mesmerising performances, Anita and Uma narrated a much-known story in a million ways, with a million adaptations, representing a million Sitas across cultures and boundaries. Two women representing different generations, yet tied by classical dance and music, wrapped themselves into the known pains of womanhood as single mothers and lived the experience of Sita in a million ways.
The irony was not lost on me when they spoke aloud: Have not mothers refrained from naming their daughters Sita, simply because they did not want their own daughters to suffer!? I remembered my own birth name of Sita being altered to Hemalatha.
The lighting by Victor Paul was poetic and added so much depth and magic to the evening’s performance. Live and recorded music lent an additional dimension.
Evolving as an artiste is about personal growth, understanding one’s strengths and making the most of it. This performance was about one such evolution.