Sitayanam, A Review
The all-woman drama troupe under the Wanita Wing of Kuala Lumpur/ Selangor is turning into a professional venture with a number of plays in its kitty. R.Zeeneeshri reviews their latest production.
The technicians are bustling about the stage fixing the lights and arranging the sets. But director, Hari Das from SS3 centre is anxious. The spotlight gets moved an inch and the set shifts to get the right amount of focus. This director wants nothing short of perfect.
Backstage, the green room is packed with artistes getting their cheeks coloured and hair put up. An 80-strong cast from eight different Sai centres. An hour before show time, the place fills up with the fragrance of jasmine. Vedas are chanted and lamps lit to invoke the blessings of Sathya Sai Baba and the Gods.
As the curtain rises, the narration begins of a touching tale of love, honour and sacrifice, revealing one woman’s strength in a world wrought with danger — Sitayanam.
Indeed it is an adaptation of the Ramayana; much focus is given on Sita and her life, struggles and emotional valour. I am not going to get into the details of the Ramayana – the story is as old as the art of storytelling itself.
What makes this play different from other translations, abridgments, and versions, is that scriptwriter, producer, talent scout and inspiration, Aunty Gana Jagadeva, draws upon a vast store of retellings and regional narrations of the Ramayana over the last two thousand years, blends them into the story, and adds notes at the end of each chapter, interspersing these with clever dialogue. There are innumerable factoids that enriched watching experience.
Disappointingly, the drama ends with Sita’s first test of chastity. Even though we know that Sita was put to test with fire by Rama because of gossip among the residents of Ayodhya, different retellings of the Ramayana have put forth different interpretations for this blot on Rama’s otherwise spotless conduct (though the killing of Vali is a second stain by most accounts).
Perhaps the most satisfying scene, at least from a dramatic perspective, is that of Kaikeyi and the demand of her boons. Minutes before, a deep and dark Manthara vows the crowd with her despicable portrayal of jealousy and sheer evil, as she convinces Kaikeyi of her plan to instate Bharata as King and banish Rama to the forest. Dasharata, equally convincing, shows desperation and feebleness. Only then does the story really begin to unfold.
Hari Das’s injection of song and dance at the right junctures make great accompaniment to the 2-hour long, dialogue heavy play. His direction is commendable with ingenious use of character change and scene depiction.
Sita was played by four actresses — young, married, exiled and despondent. The belle of the ball was Ayishwariya Premanathan from Ampang centre who played the forlorn but conscientious Sita stuck in Ravanland. An epitome of beauty, she showcased with consummate elegance the spirit of Sita even at a time when she was at loss.
A worthy mention is also the seductress Surpanakha, played by Ashwathi from Subang centre. Utterly entertaining old fashioned lust in a modern rendition, she swayed her hips and pouted her lips to the wanton sounds of a contemporary composer, as she tried to beguile Rama.
The show ended with a hall-full standing ovation at the Wisma Peladang (NUPW Hall) in Petaling Jaya. I had expected something cutesy. What I hadn’t anticipated was a show as radical in spirit as this. One can only hope for a second screening for all who missed it.