I remember the first time I performed with the Senior Girls – the Big Girls at Satara. We were doing a dance drama to recorded music. That’s always a challenge because we can’t let our emotions run free, expressing ourselves the way we want to and letting ourselves get carried away. We were performing Draupadi Vastraharan, and I was Dusshasan (a role now perpetually associated with me) for the first time. Draupadi, whom I was to drag on to stage, was far senior to me. We’d practised innumerable times, of course, and I knew that once I had mimed the pulling of her sari for a bit, the song changed to a heart-rending call to Krishna to save her.
Somehow, things on stage worked differently. We got too involved with the story and lost track of time. Draupadi, thrown amidst the gamblers, had no time to plead with the spectators to save her; she had no time to build her emotions at all because as soon as I brought her to the scene, the music changed to the piteous cry for Krishna! Startled, I looked at Yudhishthir who happily told me to go ahead and do what I was meant to do.
Nervous beyond words, I mimed the pulling of the sari at express speed, wondering how to keep the mood. We did it, somehow.
Today, when I look back, things seem simple enough. But then, on a big stage for the first time, it felt like the whole world was coming to an end! Cold hands, red ears, cold feet, wondering what my teacher would say… I remember all that with startling clarity.
And pride. That, I think was the first time I helped take the audience on a journey beyond choreography and detailed planning. That was the beginning of my career as a performer.