Ekaantha Seetha: A lonely furrow - a review
Sujatha Srikanth

October 16, 2006

"It is about women living in ordinary circumstances rising up to adverse challenges. They strike a balance by managing families, and yet rise up to the potential of being supportive and extraordinary human beings," was Uma Ganesan's quote about the Ekaantha Seetha extravaganza that we were treated to on Friday September the 22nd in Cleveland.

The beginning of the program was a treat to the eye as dancers weaved their way through the audience. It was a great start of what promised to be a wonderful evening. What a great way to prepare the audience. The laudable acrobatics of the dancers as they worked to 'swing' Ganesha held the interest of all the people in the audience. The first act of the three-act show certainly set the bar high.

The dancers and their dances were quite exquisite throughout. The highlights of the first act were the Valaikapu scene; the scenes between Laxmana and Urmila; the battle scenes and the dramatic ending. We could see and appreciate the amount of practice and hard work that went on both on stage and behind the scenes. The change of scenes was very crisp and executed flawlessly. Again, one can only imagine the amount of organizational skills it took to choreograph even the change of scenery.

The music was excellent in the first act. The distinctive voices of Bombay Jayashri and Vasundhra Rajagopal resonated throughout, and were very effective. The male singers were effective too.

The sets were quite artistic and minimalist very typical of the designer. However, they were sparser than expected.

The costumes lent themselves very much to the whole show except at one portion. Seetha was still wearing her palace garb when her children were grown up, all the time living in a forest. Perhaps a change of attire into something more fitting to the scene would be something to ponder in future productions. The costumes were quite apt in all of the other situations although there were quite a few changes, and one marveled at the speed with which some of the changes were conducted.

Being in an audience of mixed cultures, it was a delight to see the narrators. Shanta Dhananjayan and Rathna Kumar did an excellent job in the first act moving the story along. What was even more delightful was that they were not intrusive. However, they could have been more specific. They could have explained the gossip/rumors that they alluded to. They went overboard in explaining that something was wrong but were very general in what they said. For example they made the audience believe that Urmila will ask the right question, and she did with her actions. But an audience is not told what was asked. (If we were told, then I missed it). We are just told that it is unanswered. This, if explained, could have made a much bigger impact.

The first Act was so incredibly stunning that it was hard to imagine a follow up to this. There were promises of even more delightful treats for the audience as the show progressed. Unfortunately, the music/sound for the second act was too loud, thereby throwing in a disturbance that could have easily been avoided. There were also some noticeable silences in the music that seemed awkward where even a light tanpura sound playing in the background would have helped. The act started off with a historical update so that the audience would know what was going on. Again, bards were used quite successfully in moving the scenes along. The drawback however, was that some of the scenes were too short. So they seemed choppy and abrupt. Where in the fist act, the audience was given the freedom to think; in the second act they were told what to think. There could have been a better flow between the narration and the scenes to allow for a mature audience.

The second act was also filled with some exquisite dancing sequences. The doli was used quite effectively to switch between a young Laxmi Bai and a wiser Rani of Jhansi. Some of the highlights of the second act were of the young Laxmi Bai learning the arts of war, and the battle itself. The portrayal of the Rani was itself very well done. The scene at the Rani's death was very poignant. However, I was a little disappointed in the end. I was expecting the production to show more of how the Rani stood up for herself alone especially after Gangadhar's demise. However, that was narrated to the audience, and not shown. More could have been done with the underused Rani's character to enhance the audience's appreciation for all she did. Since this was a historical piece, this should have been the easiest to do. Overall, this act had very few dance components and contained more of the dramatic elements.

There was an awkward pause between the second and the third acts for a few minutes. Perhaps in the interests of not having too many breaks, the producers decided to move quickly into the third act. This would have been a wise decision, had it worked. Perhaps any building of set pieces could be done off stage and brought on stage at the right time. Hopefully, I'm sure the timing will improve with experience during further shows.

Some of the best dancing sequences were left to the last act. The inspiring Aparajita Jathi was used quite effectively in the dance sequences and left the audience craving for more. The wedding scene was a delight. Some humor was thrown in with the photographer in this scene as well as in the scene with the drunk. The market scene was used quite effectively to show the hustle and bustle of daily life (as was in the previous CCA production - Silapadikaram). The vibrant thillana at the end was a feast to the eye.

These positives still did not make up for a lack of a coherent and gripping story line that the other 2 acts had. The most disappointing portion of the third act was the lack of effective narration Rathna Kumar was effective in the first 2 acts, and was lost it in the third. Her speech was fast and abrupt, and not always into the mike. This made it hard to understand her. The double role as Praalochaki and the narrator took away from her talents. Her prolific dancing skills were underutilized. The choreography was excellent in parts (e.g. where Aparajita was harassed by the villain) - but fell short and was repetitive in other parts (e.g. where she goes to her friend's house and is repeatedly told not to enter). The school scene was amateurish. The end of the act showed that the trials and tribulations never ended, but this idiom was forced upon the audience. The production lost steam part way through the third act, and was rescued only by the energetic thillana at the end.

All the dancers did really well. No flaws could be gleaned so smooth was the performance. Shanta Dhananjayan was very serene as the Narrator and the Bard. She would have been a great narrator in the third act too. Sreelatha, as Vaidehi, exuded purity. She carried the audience with her expression when Laxmana and Seetha reached the forest. Sujatha Srinivasan was a majestic monarch and did the best she could with the scope of her part. Pavithra was my favorite dancer of the whole troupe and was very graceful in all three acts. Suhasini stood out with her athletic dancing in the second act. Anusha was a very beautiful Urmila. She had a good role, and carried it out well.

All the men in the troupe did very well too. Thiruchelwam was especially notable as the drunk. Madhusudhan and Renjit Babu were very nimble as Lava and Kusa. Narendra Kumar excelled in all three acts. Gopukiran was a well-chosen Laxmana, and Venkatakrishnan was very skillful.

I would recommend this show to more audiences. Good luck in your future shows!