Kathakali-Flamenco fusion Revisits Draupadi’s Travails


New Delhi, Nov 7: A tasteful mix of performing arts from two faraway territories of the world highlighted one of the sourest of developments in recent human history: ill-treatment of women. 

The aesthetics of Spain’s Flamenco and Kathakali from Kerala blended well to retell the issue of commodification of the female body that has of late been on the rise even as it has a history dating back to centuries, if Indian mythology is anything to go by. 

Titled ‘Draupadi’, the 75-minute dance-drama was presented in the national capital as part of a week-long cultural festival coinciding with the foundation day of the southern state of Kerala. Organised by Kerala Tourism, the fusion saw the coming together of nine artistes from two continents, courtesy the conceptualization by a leading Spanish theatre personality. 

At Kerala House on Friday evening, Madrid-based Cesar Lorente Raton focused on the horrific episode of the Mahabharata heroine facing near-violation of her dignity. Dusshasana, who harbours rancour against Draupadi’s husbands, tries to undress her before divine help saves her. 

The anti-hero is eventually killed by Bhima, who is one of Draupadi’s husbands, in the Mahabharata War. The euphoria of the husband and the wife comes as a mix of Flamenco and Kathakali movements. 

Spanish danseuse Bettina Castaño, dressed up in a multi-colour dress initially and then in black after the killing of Dusshasana, performed the role of Draupadi, using techniques of Flamenco that has its cultural moorings in southwest Europe. Biju Kumar and Biju Lal played the roles of green-faced Bhima and red-beard Dusshasana respectively, while two fellow Keralites played ethnic drums: Sumesh G played the chenda and Rajeev N on the maddalam. Juan Gotan and Jesus Garrido were on the guitar, while Indian pop star Suneeta Rao and singer Radakrishnan delivered songs in languages ranging from English to Hindi to Sanskrit to Malayalam. 

The show began with an extract from Vishnu Sahasranamam that lists 1,000 names of the protector Hindu god. The production also used Kathakali’s moving-stage techniques, where Dusshasana entered the scene through the aisle and later used a part of the audience space while fighting with his enemy. 

Director Cesar, who studied in Britain, notes that he was shocked to see how Draupadi in the Vyasa classic was made into a commodity. “She was pawned during a gamble by her husband. It’s public humiliation,” he says. I thought the story has a universal theme which anyone can relate to. It’s only increasingly relevant today.” 

It was a fellow theatre personality back in Spain who suggested Cesar to give Kathakali a contemporary twist like in ‘Draupadi’. “I worked on the idea for almost a year before Kathakali met Flamenco on stage,” he says. 

Cesar, who did his BA (Honours) in Theatre Studies from Middlesex University and has shared nearly a decade-long relation with India (especially Kerala), has been artistically cooperating with Kerala Tourism from 2004.

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