Isheeta Ganguly retraces the steps of Chitra from the Mahabharata

Updated: 22 November, 2017 12:56 IST | Benita Fernando | Mumbai

A new play by Isheeta Ganguly retraces the steps of Chitra from the Mahabharata, but in a contemporary context

Among the Mahabharata's host of many fascinating women, the tale of Chitrangada is one that held a special place for Rabindranath Tagore. The story of the warrior princess of ancient Manipur, who becomes one of the wives of Arjuna, was transformed into a woman's quest for selfhood and true love through Tagore's dance drama, Chitra, in 1913. Now, Chitra gets a modern retelling through Isheeta Ganguly's new play, Sundays with Chitra & Chaitali.

Calling herself an avid songstress of Rabindra Sangeet, Ganguly says, "My play uses both the original tale of Chitrangada as well as Tagore's Chitra. I have used a double narrative -- the original myth is set alongside two friends, Chitra and Chaitali, who meet every Sunday and exchange notes about their lives and relationships over a cup of coffee."

In Tagore's Chitra, the warrior princess falls in love with Arjuna. The Pandava prince, unfortunately, is at a point in his life when he is an ascetic, and thus is interested in only one battle -- the one with the self.

What's more, Chitra is not your typical feminine lass. "The story of Chitra is about a woman trapped in the identity of a man," Ganguly says. Arjuna spurns Chitra's confessions of love, hardly aware that she is the famed warrior princess. He states that he cannot break his vows of asceticism, but it could well be that he uses it as an excuse.

Chitra asks for a boon from the god of love to transform her into an ideal of feminine beauty. Her boon granted, Arjuna's vows are shaken at the sight of this beauty. When he gets to know that she is in fact Chitra, the princess whose acts of valour he has been hearing for long, Arjuna says that he loves her even more now.

"What's interesting is that when Chitra gets the boon of transforming into a perfect feminine beauty, she doesn't feel like that's her true self," says Ganguly. The journey of Chitra is reflected in the hilarious banter that ensues between a modern-day Chitra and her friend Chaitali in the play, which premieres on November 26 as part of NCPA's CentreStage Festival.

"Chitra and Chaitali are alter-egos of each other. Chaitali is feminine in the traditional sense -- her nails are always done, and she works in a high-end fashion boutique. Chitra, on the other hand, is argumentative and an alpha woman. Between the two, Chaitali would be the more traditionally desirable woman," says Ganguly, who is both playwright and director of this play.

Isheeta Ganguly

The play will feature audiovisuals by Romita Roy and a special song by Bollywood music director, Pritam. His wife, Barbie Chakraborty, makes a comeback as an actress in the role of the mythical Chitrangada. Other actors in the play are Ira Dubey as the narrator, Abhishek Chauhan as Arjun, Mahnaz Damania as Chitra, and Chrisann Pereira as Chaitali.

Ganguly has formerly scripted and directed two plays, Three Women (based on women from Tagore's life and writings), and Shakuntala Awaits. She says that she wants to bring the classics into a contemporary conversation, and make them far more
accessible and multimedia friendly.

However, do women still struggle with fitting into standards of feminine beauty? Surely that's a battle that's been won? "What does it mean to be beautiful? To have power in relationships? These age-old themes are relevant even today," Ganguly says.
As Chaitali chides Chitra for being the alpha woman that she is, Ganguly says that the resolution, in true millennial style is, "You do you, and I'll do me."

Where: Experimental Theatre: NCPA, Nariman Point
When: November 26, 7 pm
Entry: R590 - R708
Call: 66223737

First Published: 19 November, 2017 15:20 IST

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