In a kind of performance art for the camera, filmmaker and educationalist Oorvazi Irani got together with photographer Chaitali Shirgaonkar to chronicle the eight archetypal phases of the romantic heroine in the Indian aesthetic tradition called Ashtanayikas (literally, ‘eight heroines’).
Central to this concept of love is the play of two opposites – meeting and separation. Five of the eight heroines reflect the stage of separation, while three represent the stage of meeting.
According to ancient Indian aesthetics, there are eight key emotions, namely shringar (love), hasya (mirth), karuna (compassion/grief), roudra (anger), veera (heroism), bhayanaka (fear), bibhasa (disgust), and adbhuta (wonder). Each emotion has a possibility of varied transient mental states. The heroine (nayika) in this project brings to life within each image the varied mental states establishing the emotion of love.
The protagonist of this series belongs to the Maharashtrian culture with its own specific art and tradition in its style of dressing, jewellery, props and setting.
VirahotkanthitaThe heroine yearning, awaiting her beloved to return home
My eyes are longing for that one glimpse of you my beloved
My arms are aching from the emptiness of your void
Wanting to touch you and feel your presence besides me is all I desire
I don’t doubt even for once that you must be delayed by duty
But, my heart knows no reason and only understands the language of your embrace…
AbhisarikaThe heroine sets out to meet her beloved against all odds
Nothing can stop me now
I am the warrior of love
To behold you in my eyes I will fight all the world
I will vanquish all obstacles to meet you tonight
VasakasajjaThe heroine adorns herself with pleasure and readies for her beloved
Oh beloved! My lips tremble
My eyes cannot contain their excitement
My feet are ready to break into a dance
My heart is pulsating to be one in union
VipralabdhaThe dejected heroine stood up by her beloved last night
All night I waited but he did not come
I waited … and waited…
My beloved deceived me.
Now my eyes empty of all hope
My temple of love, deserted and I stand all alone
KhanditaThe heroine angry and disappointed shuns her beloved for being unfaithful
Let the earth part to engulf me in her womb
I cannot bear to see you in the arms of another woman
You have made a mockery of my love
Now no water will quench my thirst
Only the fire of your betrayal will keep burning inside me
KalahantaritaThe heroine quarrels with her beloved but might suffer remorse later
Look me in the eye
And tell me where I failed you.
You were the ocean of my love
Why did you reduce me to an insignificant mere drop of water?
You don’t deserve me
Walk away silently into the night
Never to return
ProshitabhartrukaThe heroine in deep longing separated from her beloved
Separated from you I feel so incomplete
A part of myself that I long for
I count each breath and it seems like eternity
When will you kiss me and bring me back to life?
SwadhinabhartrukaThe heroine content with her beloved’s affection and dedication
I have been searching for you, oh beloved, all these years
But finally I found you because I found myself…
I recognise you without your masks, I see your true self shining through
As lovers we are now truly inseparable.
Words and performance: Oorvazi Irani.
Photography: Chaitali Shirgaonkar
First published in eShe’s May 2020 issue