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The stage is dimly lit, the music is soft so that all attention is focused on the conversation between two women, Draupadi and Sita. An integral part of the Hindu epics Ramayan and Mahabharat, their stories have been told and retold through generations.

In New Delhi-based choreographer Jyotsna Shourie’s production Face to Face, Draupadi and Sita come together to reminisce about their lives. Their conversation covers much ground—including their birth, how they got married and left the comforts of their kingdoms and went to the forests with their husbands, Sita’s abduction by Ravana and Draupadi’s enraged memories of the Kurukshetra war, including the infamous game of dice, and their deaths.

Shourie says the idea is to highlight the plight of these two, and yet have them tell their own stories to break some age-old stereotypes.

“We all perceive Draupadi as this multifaceted fiery beauty, and Sita as an embodiment of loyalty and courage. However, it would be wrong to infer that Sita was more submissive and Draupadi more aggressive. Their personalities were moulded by the times in which they lived and this is a piece which deals with just that," says Shourie.

The 1-hour, 15-minute dance-drama is presented by Shourie’s students Aneesha Grover as Sita, and Nandita Kalaan as Draupadi. While performing their dances in Bharatanatyam, as one narrates the episodes of her life, the other enacts them to simplify the story of the two women who suffered in a patriarchal world. “And that’s why I call it a dance-theatre because as the dancers are presenting this classical dance form, they are also enacting and delivering dialogues," says Shourie.

The music by Carnatic vocalist O.S. Arun heightens the emotions of each scene, be it Deemaha Maruti to describe a flying Hanuman, or Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu as Draupadi defeats the Kauravas’ attempt to disrobe her.

Shourie has used the ekaharya-lasyanga approach with Draupadi, wherein a solo dancer performs all the characters, whereas in the case of Sita, it is more in the dance ballet format where there is Ram, Ravana and Hanuman in her parts of the story. But, according to Shourie, “this doesn’t constitute the difficult part". “The most difficult part was to pick up the issues most relevant to these two women from the two tales and to relate with them," she adds.

Shourie believes that these age-old tales hold relevance even today. “Every woman has a little part of these two extraordinary women in them and that is what makes this theatre more relevant today." Shourie stresses that her play deals with feminism by showing women as being emotionally, mentally and physically powerful, and possessing a will of steel. “But also, I want to widen the frontiers of classical dance and make it accessible to all sections of the public both in India and abroad by selecting the themes which have universal appeal", she says.

Face to Face will be performed at Habitat World, India Habitat Centre (IHC), Lodhi Road, New Delhi at 7pm on 5 November.

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