Maya Krishna Rao, channeling Ravana
Happy birthday to the late Neelan Tiruchelvam, peacemaker, killed by the LTTE in 1999. He would have been 68 yesterday. His trust staged a performance of Ravanama by Maya Krishna Rao. It was… interesting?
I honestly didn’t get it. I’ll be honest here. I was mostly befuddled and bored, and irritated at the sheer volume of sound. The story is damn interesting.
There are numerous Ramayanas, the story of Rama trashing Lanka to get back Sita (like the Iliad. Or Mario Bros). There are a few (The Slaying Of Meghananda) that take Lanka and Ravana’s side. But not many.
In Rao’s interpretation, Ravana is misunderstood and she’s trying to understand him. Through vaguely traditional movement, a lot of untraditional movement (including a dance number to Michael Jackson’s Bad), and spoken word and sound. The story is that, well, Sita was a Moses baby, cast downstream cause it was told she would get her father killed. Rao’s idea is that Ravana was Sita’s father. Which is a pretty Vader take.
It sounds more interesting than it was, at least to me. A fair amount of the play was her messing around with clothes and opening her MacBook and drinking tea onstage. Interesting idea though.
The traditional epic take is that Ravana was once Vishnu’s guard. He pulled the velvet rope on some VIP, which resulted in earthside exile. Ravan had to go through I think 10 rebirths before he could come back. Ravana was the last birth, and Rama was Vishnu, so killing him was karmically complete.
Sita’s narrative, however, is really the central part of the story and it’s largely unwritten. Nina Paley did an excellent animated take in Sita Sings The Blues, btw.
Rao explores another aspect of Sita via Ravana, essentially the big question mark that’s their relationship (hostage/captor as it were). However, a fair amount was too abstract or self-absorbed to really capture me. There was a fair amount of deliberation about the artistic process on stage, a fair amount of severe abstraction, and ear splitting amount of volume, at least where I was sitting.
So, interesting story, but wasn’t a huge fan of the presentation. Other people were. It was a good event. Happy birthday and thank you.