Modern take on Tagore's Chitrangada

'Sundays with Chitra and Chaitali' premiered a year-and-a-half ago at NCPA Centre Stage, Mumbai. After multiple shows in Mumbai, and travelling to Chennai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata, the play is being staged in Hyderabad as a part of Welcom Theatre initiative. "It has been a truly extraordinary response. What I am amazed after performing, particularly in the South is the tremendous and respect reverence for his work, particularly his heroines. I am getting the same level of interest from Hyderabad for classic stories being given contemporary treatment. 'Sundays with Chitra and Chaitali' is given modern treatment in the narrative even while the original story of Arjuna and Chitrangada is interwoven, and contemporary dialogues, music, and dance take the story forward. While Isheeta had rendered the songs, the music arrangement for the play is by Preetam.

Isheeta's tryst with theatre started at the Kalaghoda Festival, Mumbai, where she gave a music performance of her much popular album 'Damaru'. It is a mix of Indian fold-pop, classical, electronica, and Rabindra Sangeet that Isheeta recorded in her fusion style. The album also has the voice of Bollywood actor John Abraham as he narrates lines from 'Gitanjali'. "I am all for fusion as long as the 'swaralipi', the integrity of the original melody stays, and the lines of Rabindranath Tagore are not altered. One must stay true to the lyrics," she says.

After the performance, Brinda Miller from Kalaghoda fest asked her to come up with a dance drama based on Tagore's works. That was the motivation she needed. Isheeta was always inspired by Tagore's women. "From many years ago when I had met Satyajit Ray in college and spoke to him about Tagore's women in his films, 'Charulata', and 'Ghare Baire', it had been on my mind. The way Tagore understood the complexity of a woman's mind, the myriad emotions, the ability to express passion, excitement, and the way he was able to articulate a woman's pathos, her disappointments and his ability to create a bold narrative is inspiring. His characters were pathbreaking, they expressed their desires, which was unthinkable during his time. They aspired for careers and an identity, which they were not allowed to have. He had a great understanding of the inner workings of a woman," she relates.

And adds, "My husband has been a tremendous inspiration for me as I retell classic narratives in the contemporary context. He has enabled me to embrace the Yin and Yang and helped me bring this story alive."

Adapting Tagore to the modern narrative was not difficult. She explains, "The conflicts that he described are the same conflicts we are negotiating as women. We may have moved forward, but certain societal expectations remain the same. The fight for identity remains."

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