The grandeur of dance, drama and music came alive in ‘Shyama’, an experimental retelling of Rabindranath Tagore’s acclaimed play, organised by Darpan Dance Academi in association with the state government’s Directorate of Cultural Affairs at the Rabindra Bhawan recently. The dance drama, translated into Assamese from original Bengali by Madhurima Baruah, was designed, directed, choreographed and performed by noted Odissi exponent Anjana Moyee Saikia, who blended the flavour of Tagore’s essence with her own style of presentation.
One of the classic romantic tragedies of Indian literature, the story set against the backdrop of an old kingdom, revolves around the central character Shyama, a courtesan, who yearns for freedom of her beau Bajrasen, who has been wrongly accused of a crime, and her secret admirer Uttiyo. Bajrasen, a foreign merchant, who brought the ‘Indramani’ necklace (a necklace of rare emeralds from the Subarna islands) with the intention of gifting it to his soul mate whom he has never met. Levelled with charges of theft from the royal treasury, the ‘Nagar Kotal’, the King’s guard chains up Bajrasen and forcibly takes him to the prison. Shyama has a glimpse of him from her palace window and falls in love with him at first sight. Following the accusation, she finds her own way to rescue him, and persuades the Kotal to spare Bajrasen. Noticing her concern for him, Bajrasen realises that she is the girl of his dreams.
On the other hand, Uttiyo who is infatuated with Shyama, comes to know that she is seeking someone valiant enough to rescue Bajrasen from the injustice. Uttiyo, who has never expressed his affection to Shyama, makes up his mind to take the blame on himself. Being blinded by her love for Bajrasen, Shyama grabs the opportunity and gives Uttiyo a ring which the King had given her. Showing the ring as a proof for the alleged theft, Uttiyo surrenders before the Kotal and finally sacrifices his life.
Bajrasen, who is initially delighted to be free from the false allegations, becomes quite curious to know how Shyama managed to secure his freedom. When the truth of Uttiyo’s sacrifice becomes known to him, he immediately abandons her.
Between happiness and sadness, love and revulsion, Bajrasen begs the Almighty to forgive his loneliness, and inability to forgive Shyama and save Uttiyo. The philosophy behind such a prayer to the Almighty reflects the fact that we all want forgiveness when we ourselves are unable to dispense it.
With colourful choreography that saw the incorporation of various dance styles, and stellar performances by Anjana Moyee Saikia and other artistes, the play deftly captured the tragic mood of the drama, leaving the audiences mesmerised.
‘Shyama’ is one of Tagore’s later plays which he developed into a full-fledged dance drama. It was first staged in Calcutta in 1936 and had since been accepted as one of the bard’s most popular musical tragedies that has endured the test of time.
A prolific dancer in both Odissi and Sattriya, Anjana Moyee Saikia took the character of Shyama to a glorious high. The play saw Saikia and other artistes perform to some of Tagore’s famous songs in Assamese, much to the delight of the audiences. The music by Tarali Sarma brought a different flavour to the presentation. The supporting cast of artistes include Sasanka Samir (Bajrasen), Tapan Kumar Baruah (Uttiyo), Bijit Kumar Das, Debajit Deka, etc. The dance numbers were performed by Roopchanda Sarma, Shyamalima Das, Banalata Baishya and Samragyee Kashyap. Light design by Kaushik Borbora made the adaptation a visual treat and the play was well supported by the music design of Yachinur Rahman.