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a million SITA-s - Critics Speak
a Neo Bharatam presentation

Re-visiting Sita
- Harini Sriram, Economic Times Madras Plus – Friday December 17, 2010

City-based dancer, choreographer and activist Anita Ratnam's new production, A Million Sitas, uses Sita as a connecting link to explore the nuances of various other women in the Ramayana….

"There is a little bit of Sita in all women," says Anita Ratnam, easily among the city's most well-known dancers/choreographers/cultural activists/researchers. At 3.30 pm, after a round of rehearsals with her live troupe, "I'm working with live music after nearly ten years", Anita meets us to tell the story of how her new production was born in her head and took shape in art. "Indian women today are independent no doubt but we continue to be entrenched in the frozen values of moral and family codes. So in a way, we (women) are subliminally always making compromises."

In this production, Sita occupies pride of place: she is the central figure; the protagonist; the connecting link through which the artiste and the audiences will analyse and understand the other important women in the Ramayana. Surpanakha, Ahalya, Manthara and Sabari – in greater dtail. "Mythology and stories of women have always fascinated me." Says Anita sipping a cappuccino at the new Chamiers, "I've always been using mythology as a navigational column to my art." Here, through a four-part episodic journey that will sparkle with music that we've often heard and appreciated, the artiste attempts to "remove the veils from all these characters and see them in a different light: Sita as a mother; as a friend; her interactions with the other women in the forest, etc."

Over the last six years or so, the Ramayana has occupied literary sensibilities across the world; artists, writers and dancers have constantly attempted to re-visit and re-interpret it.

Almost always, as Anita notes, Sita has been portrayed as the demure, timid, sad, submissive woman who stands by her husband – "sometimes we wonder why she had to go through all that she did: sometimes it makes us angry". It is this anger that sparked off the artiste's imagination to create a work where she freely discovers a whole new world within and beyond the framework of Ramayana: a world that is brimming with questions.

So is the new production a feminist bashing of Ram? "No", she says, "I believe that no culture or people who have revered and loved this story for centuries can be foolish and blind for so long as to admire a bad man. A Million Sitas is a refraction of the many women who surround Sita and without whose interventions the crucial events in the Ramayana would not have occurred."

This solo dance-theatre work will also mark her tenth collaboration with choreographer Hari Krishnan from InDance, Canada, multi-percussionist NK Kesavan (with whom Anita has been working since 1990), Carnatic vocalists lakshmi Rangarajan and her daughter Subhiksha, violinist, Viji Krishnan and the narrator, Priya Murle (city-based Bharatanatyam dancer), who will create the sounds and music of versatile poets like Tulsidas and Arunachala Kavirayar, on stage. In terms of movements, the creation is a coming together of Bharatanatyam with contemporary aesthetics.

A Million Sitas premieres on December 25, 7.30 pm at Krishna Gana Sabha. Excerpts of the production, followed by a discussion will be held at Chamiers on December 18, between 4pm and 6pm
harini.sriram@timesgroup.com


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