New musical invokes the epic power of Sita and Draupadi in London

New musical invokes the epic power of Sita and Draupadi in London

Indian Classical Music organisation Kalakar Arts UK has made a distinct name for itself for showcasing feminist themes in their recent musicals. Following hugely successful shows such as ‘Begum Akhtar’ and ‘Saraswati – the forgotten daughter of Tansen’, the team is now set to launch their latest musical at Merton Arts Space in London on July 31.

‘Ahuti: The musical echoes of Sita and Draupadi’ promises to be a larger-than-life retelling of epic stories from women’s perspective. The closest disciple of Pandit A. Kanan and Bidushi Malabika Kanan, Chandra Chakraborty, is at the helm of Kalakar Arts and these mega productions.

Spontaneous melody

In a candid chat some time back, Chandra shared: “What we, as women, need to do is develop a language of our own. This is what I did in music and the whole diegesis of my production.”

That was the time when I was working on the script of ‘Ahuti’, which translates as sacrifice, and I realised she is the person whose directorial guidance I seek for this script.

Whenever I read mythology, I can’t help but notice the remarkable similarity they still bear in these modern times – the vices, the position of women in society, and the crisis of humanity in general. How much of it has really changed?

Chandra said: “While reading Greek tragedies or Hindu mythology, I always wanted to replicate the lamentation of those fatal characters through ragas. As a classical singer, I have an entirely different approach to mythology. When I go to a forest, listen to the songs of birds or animals, the ripples of waterfalls, the rhythm of nature – I always wanted to carry and emulate the beauty of these sounds whenever I sing.

“Because music is, in my opinion, the reflection of a spontaneous melody that nature has constantly been creating. Through music, I always wanted to mingle and enter the realm of nature and be a part of it.”

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Uniting across eras

The story of the fiery maidens of mythology has been told in a unique light in this musical. The main challenge was to bring the two characters of Sita, from the ‘Ramayana’, and Draupadi, from the ‘Mahabharata’ – two different eras – together on a common platform.

Apart from some powerful Sanskrit verses, the narration will be done mainly in English, keeping the global audience in mind. Chandra Chakraborty’s portrayal of Sita will be the traditional, ever forgiving, patient Sita that we all know. But there’s a fiery element and a warrior princess vibe in the two other characters in the story.

One of the finest Kathak dancers in the UK, Indrani Datta will personify Draupadi in the musical. Indrani has harnessed the Kathak language of movement and emotion to bring a raw, intense, and visceral texture in her classical dance. She focuses on the Kalka Bindadin Gharana of Kathak under the leadership of Pandit Birju Maharaj, and Guru Sushmita Ghosh and Vidushi Saswati Sen.

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Fresh and relevant

On reading the script, Indrani commented, “My repertoire on mythology and storytelling is naturally aligned with ‘Ahuti’. This new script is fresh, relevant and respectful of tradition while raising vital social questions.”

Young talented Amith Dey will provide vocal support and background music. Junaid Ali, a talented percussion player, will accompany on the Tabla.

According to the events team of Kalakar Arts, the event will be graced by the presence of Director of Nehru Centre London, Amish Tripathi, and will also be joined by the Mayor of Merton Councillor Michael Brunt, the director of Sama Arts Jay Visvadeva, director of Music Room Rahmat Simab, Member of SACeP and NED and SSAI Artistic Director of SOAS University London Dr Sanjukta Ghosh, among others.

Individuality and self-identity are key themes in this musical. This is a coming together of three different disciplines – music, dance, and spoken words – without any urgency for commingling.

Collaborating in the development of this piece has been a rewarding process for all of us, and we hope the audience will find this thought-provoking and entertaining.

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