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The Trialogue Company made waves for its acclaimed play Tansen. There is no dearth of reviews that attest to its uniqueness and ability to awe the audience in the space of a theatre. Hence, expectations of its next play, Meera: Beyond Devotion, were towering. Meera needs no introduction, as she is venerated as the 16-century saint, poet, devotee of Lord Krishna and revolutionary for challenging social conventions against women. She has been the subject and inspiration of several artists. So, what does Trialogue Company do differently? Was the play able to rise to expectations and garner the same admiration as the group’s previous production? We saw the play last week at Kamani auditorium in New Delhi.

The play opens with a hair-raising classical dance performance by lead performer Ridhima Bagga, bound by ropes and tied to a noose. Before venturing into Meera’s story, she effectively conveys the proposition that if it is difficult to dance all tied up, imagine the difficulty women face in a society that collectively forces them “to be tied" or constrained by expectations of ideal womanhood. Further, as Meera is introduced to the audience, we are nudged to self-inquire how Meera, who was educated, rational and knowledgeable in the skills of war, and used to interrogate even the stories of her guru, fell in love with an idol of Lord Krishna and devoted her life to bhakti (devotion) of him?

In finding the answer to that question, we see Ridhima Bagga being transformed into Meera, who dances in rapture at the thought of Krishna coming to meet her or the pain of not finding him. It is difficult to keep one’s eyes off Ridhima as her dance doesn’t miss a beat and the beauty of classical music shines through her every move. What enhances the authenticity of the performances is that she is dancing to the tune of Meera’s own composed bhajans. The play substantiates Meera’s relevance by engaging the audience to ask for introspection over their definition of patriarchy and the fundamental concept of freedom.

After briefing the audience about the story of Meera, Riddhima transforms herself into an artist who is just trying to understand Meera. How come a woman who formed no cult, was simply a devotee of Krishna, still has millions of people singing her poetry in devotion to divinity? The play gets modern age-relevant as we are introduced to Ridhima the artist’s husband and the dilemma that she faces as an artist: finding true happiness in her life by devoting herself to her art (or her way of expressing herself) and managing a household while fulfilling her husband’s expectations of her as a wife. A special shout-out to Sudheer Rikhari for his brilliant portrayal of an educated and cosmopolitan man in a patriarchal world. The artists beautifully represent what Meera and her life in this age would look like. In this journey, we find the answer we sought.

The play does a marvellous task of unearthing the character of Meera. She was never consciously trying to be a revolutionary. Her devotion to Krishna attained fulfilment by providing her with a medium to raise questions against patriarchy through her poetry. Sainthood could be considered her refuge, but so strong was her faith in God that she needed no validation from society. Her bhakti completed herself. This interpretation makes the play distinct, as it goes beyond the struggles that she faced in her life. The play beautifully explains how even God was a mere medium to help her achieve herself, her inner self. This deceptively simple interpretation easily comes to the audience because at one point the audience fails to see the distinction between Meera and Ridhima. Her soul-stirring portrayal of Meera and her bhakti is so flawless that the emotions touch the audience simply through her dance and expressions.

The play is unique in many aspects. For instance, in the introductory scene, Ridhima (who is tied in ropes) slowly disentangles herself as she begins to dance, conveying to the audience the importance of expressing oneself in one’s journey to seek freedom. At one point, she is gasping for air, and this, when amalgamated with her wonderful classical dance moves and dialogues, exhorts the audience to seek their own notion of absolute freedom. No less special is Ridhima’s reading of an Iranian poem on the plight of women in that society, which puts into context the global aspect of the freedom issue, thus universalizing Meera. And even how effectively the play merges classical and Western music to evoke the sentiments of love and devotion for Krishna through the former, while the latter outshines in scenes that connect the contemporary relevance of Meera to the discourse around freedom of expression. The audience will be challenged to explore more such nuances and interpretations as the play leaves them with inspiration to understand the art enacted on stage.

Ridhima’s conceptualization of Meera, her flawless classical Indian dance and the emotional connection that she established with the audience (with a sprinkle of humour) demanded a 1-minute-long standing ovation. The Trialogue Company has lived up to its reputation of establishing a special niche in the theatre space, and this makes Meera: Beyond Devotion a must-watch play.

Payal Seth & Shweta Jha are, respectively, a PhD scholar at Bennett University and a Master’s student studying comparative Indian literature at University of Delhi. 

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