by Vasanti  Sankaranarayanan, Chennai 
e-mail: vasanthi40@yahoo.com 
October, 2001 

Her Voice - a voice which is being heard prominently all over the world  was once again emphasised  in a dance theater puppetry production staged by Arangham Trust and International Womens Association (IWA). This venture is the result of a collaboration between Bharatanatyam dancer, Geeta Chandran and Puppet maker, Anurupa Roy. The script was written by Rajeev Chandran, the music composed by Shyam Banerji and the narration done by Kalyani Menon. 
The timeliness of the production lent it a special focus. In a war torn world, when a world war is almost knocking at our very doorsteps, it is indeed courageous to voice the view that war resolves nothing.  The protagonist, a woman, also points out that it is the women and children, innocent bystanders witnessing the wars, who are the main victims and sufferers. The producers of "Her Voice" do not hesitate it calling this production "a manifesto for sanity in an incrementally insane world". 
As it deals with war, a cruel and horrible power game, and with women who have always been marginalised and oppressed by dominant forces, one cannot expect any humor or joy from this production. In any case, why should we laugh and feel happy when the future is so bleak and forlorn?  The tone of the entire production is that of a lament - a lament for the loved ones killed for no fault of theirs, a lament for the fragmented and fissiparous world, a lament for the value systems, which are based on the creed of violence, senseless killing and power play, which benefits only the aggressors. There are words in the script bringing out this desolate feeling. "Every sense is invaded by war. The smell of war. The feel of War. The sight of war.  The taste of war. Has this war invaded our genes?"  We are already late in asking this question. But, even at this late hour, it has to be asked; maybe, then a gruesome and purposeless war, which may wipe out the human race itself can be averted. The artists who have collaborated and evolved this production should be appreciated for their sensitivity to this current and topical theme. 

The production is based on the well-known tale from the Battle of Kurukshetra, in the epic, Mahabharata. This war "is often labelled a war for Dharma". But, Draupadi, the protagonist, who at one stage becomes the representative of all women all over the world, questions the efficacy of this statement. She has been made the cause of the war by the patriarchal literature, the Epic itself. She is called the "Kritya" or the one who caused the war. Ideologically, this responsibility for the war and conflict being placed on women is very typical of patriarchy. So, the modern Draupadi, while protesting against the futility of war, is also exonerating her role in the eruption of war. Even in this production, Draupadi is shown as partly responsible for the war. Her desire to take revenge on those who humiliated her is underscored as the main reason for the war. But, we all know, that the main reason was the competition and power play that existed between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, which caused the war. This writer cannot help wishing that the Draupadi in this production had touched upon this aspect of the Epic a little more 

One of the interesting aspects of this production was the interweaving of the dancers and the puppets and puppeteers. The puppets are visualized as the alter egos of the protagonist. There were different kinds of puppets - stylized as well as figurative puppets, puppet-puppets and human puppets, the dancing puppets as well as static puppets. In fact, the puppetry and the dancing were not well balanced. The puppets tended to overshadow the dancers most of the time. Some more of dance may have energized the production.  However, the puppets by themselves instilled new dimensions in this production. The most remarkable puppet was the big white one made of sponge - just a face and two hands - which remained as an installation in the background and moved in wherever needed. The movement of this puppet was especially good. The human puppets were very effective, but their movements were clumsy and could have been choreographed better. The puppet, which disappointed me, was the main "Draupadi" puppet. Its movements were clumsy and manipulated in an obvious manner.  

The music was good and created a good ambience for the production. The lighting was good. The other aspect of the production which somewhat negated the whole production was the wordiness of the script. Everything that had to be said was said in the script. The emotions were all conveyed through the voice of the narrator.  So, there was very little left for the dancers to communicate. The wordiness of the script tended to give a propagandist, agit-prop touch to the entire production. A fragmented and more suggestive script and a little less literal interpretation by the dancers would have enhanced the production. But, as the producers themselves are treating this as an ongoing and changing piece, Her voice would evolve in a better form soon. 

As all experiments, especially experiments which try to meld different art forms are bound to have edges in the beginning which have to be refined and smoothened, Her Voice also has the possibility to change and evolve in a newer and better form soon. 


Vasanti Sankaranarayanan, is a PhD holder from Madras University on the subject “Malayalam Cinema, Society and Politics of Kerala”. She has translated books from Malayalam to English and vice versa and has written some dance scripts. She is a freelance journalist and art critic.