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Sita takes center stage at Anoushka Zaveri's unique approach to Ramayana

Updated on: 21 May,2024 09:22 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Shriram Iyengar |

With her latest production, writer-director Anoushka Zaveri brings together contradictory forms to explore the iconic myth of the Ramayana through the perspective of its heroine, Sita

 Sita takes center stage at Anoushka Zaveri's unique approach to Ramayana

Maahi (left) and Anoushka Zaveri during a performance at Prithvi Theatre in 2023

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Sita takes center stage at Anoushka Zaveri's unique approach to Ramayana

The magic of a story is that it can be told and retold multiple times. Especially a tale as old as the Ramayana. From the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh to the façades of Angkor Wat’s temples, the epic has had multiple iterations. One of the latest is a performance-play by Anoushka Zaveri. The 25-year-old writer-director is set to bring to the stage her take on the epic’s heroine, Sita, and her adventures in Glitch in the Myth. Opening this week at an Andheri venue, the performance takes on the adventure of Sita, from her childhood to marriage, and the epic that follows.

“I always felt that Sita was unrelatable and unreachable as an ideal. Like so many of our icons, she is unachievable as a personality,” remarks Zaveri. A trained Bharatanatyam artiste, she was set upon the idea of reimagining the epic during a Navarasa sadhana course in Kerala back in 2023. “Even before I knew what the play was about, I knew how it would be,” she says. Having learned the dance form for over 15 years, it was only natural that she turned to it as the structure for her solo-act.

Anoushka Zaveri during a performance at Prithvi Theatre in 2023

The choice of her story was just as simple. “In this country, you grow up with the Ramayana — whether you are religious or not. Through cartoons, television, movies and texts, it is unavoidable,” she remarks. But all iterations tend to have one common thread. “The women in all these epics are merely part of the story by the virtue of their being,” she remarks. This led her to re-imagine the text in her way — a punch back at tradition, she says.

Born in Mumbai, Zaveri grew up as a regular at plays around Prithvi Theatre with her father, an avid theatre lover. “Others would take their children to the movies. My dad would take me to plays,” she remarks. Her play premiered at Prithvi’s Thespo Festival in 2023, and won Zaveri the awards for Outstanding New Writing and Production, and the Pearl Padamsee award for Best Actor. Crafted over four-months, the performance blends Hindustani classical music, Bharatanatyam expressions, humour, and sass for a very post-modern take.

“The show was born out of a sense of mischief, to break the rules. My Sita is someone a 25-year-old would relate to. She is a drama queen with a sense of adventure. She might lack personality, but is curious and seeks new experiences,” Zaveri explains. These experiences form a new perspective and identity different from the idealistic heroine most people are familiar with. Cue events like the struggle of finding a maid in her new palace, building a sisterhood with Soorpanakha, finding a mentor in Kaikeyi, or even meeting Mandodari, and discussing the men in their lives. “I find it odd that these epics have strong women in silos. They never portray a sense of sisterhood or their conversations about simple things, and I wanted to capture that,” the writer explains. Naturally, humour and mischief had to be a part of this new retelling.

The dance form of Bharatanatyam and the music also lean into this trend. From using a single ghungroo — a taboo— to performing to the background of vocal ragas, it has enough to shock a traditionalist. “Incidentally, both forms of art have a long history of marginalisation and patriarchy. Moreover, they are gatekept stringently. This was my way of breaking the mould,” Zaveri adds. The vocals are performed by her sister, 19-year-old Maahi Zaveri. 

While the response has been good, Zaveri admits such performances will need a brave audience. “We are trying to break some rules here. It takes courage to watch something that shakes the foundation of what you have grown up with and assimilated deep into yourself. Even if I manage to touch one person in the audience, and make them rethink their perception, I’d consider it a success,” she says. 

On May 24 and 25, May 31 and June 1; 7 pm 
At Veda Black Box, Aram Nagar Part 2, Versova, 
Andheri West. 
Log on to 
Cost Rs 350 onwards

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