Sharmila Mukerjee’s Oddissi production gives a new dimension to the character Kaikeyi
Kaikeyi, at first glance, personifies the archetype of the wicked stepmother. Ruthless and cold-hearted, this young wife of king Dasharath’s, banishes prince Ram to a 14-year exile in the forest so that her son, harat could become king. But Odissi danseuse Sharmila Mukerjee has a different perspective. “She has always been depicted as stubborn and vindictive, but I’m saying it’s not all black and white,” Sharmila tells
us over a phone interview. Her new production, Kaikeyi presents the character in a new light as warm-hearted and brave.
In Kaikeyi, Sharmila sees a lonely and repentant woman, who may have had a moment of weakness, but was penitent. The character is depicted as gentle yet fearless, sensitive yet strong-willed and passionate but slightly confused. She loved Ram as much as she loved her own son.
The 30-minute-long solo performance begins with Kaikeyi as an old lady and takes you through the story with a series of flashbacks to the war, Ram and Bharat’s youth, Ram’s coronation and the exile. It is a pure abhinaya-based piece. The focus is on the dance itself, with very little dialogue. Sharmila takes on the role of a few characters, mainly Kaikeyi, of course, but also Manthara, Dasharath, Ram and Bharat. The costume is not a traditionally meant for Odissi, but it’s one that reflects the time and setting of the epic. “The idea came to me about a year ago when I was reading Amrita Sen’s book of poems about Kaikeyi. It took me a year to complete the production.”
The piece is part of Pravaha – an Odissi dance festival held every year in tribute to Sharmila’s guru Kelucharan Mohapatra who passed away on April 7, 2004. “The first word that comes to mind
when I think of him is ‘taskmaster’,” Sharmila recalls, adding, “but he was a great teacher and a genius.” Sharmila grew up in Kolkata but learnt the art from him in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar.
Odissi has quite an audience in Bengaluru, with Sharmila being one of the early progenitors of the art in the city. But financial support has always been a problem. This performance is supported by the Ministry of Culture. “Corporate sponsorship is very rare hence, we always fall back on the government. For me, since I’m established, it is easy to get support, but for newcomers, it is a tough road to take, but one that is driven by pure passion,” she says in conclusion.
Entry free. April 7. At ADA Rangamandira, JC Road, 6.30 pm. Details: 22219388