Hema Malini redefining the character of Draupadi!

Author- Maanvi Agarwal


Draupadi, a legendary figure has been invoked in a lot of mythologies and has become a formidable force to be reckoned with. She was more than a daughter of fire, wife of five husbands or an instigator of the legendary war of Mahabharata.

Draupadi was a woman, and before that she was a human with simple desires and wishes and passion, but sometimes in the face of facts we tend to ignore the opinions. The latter is important to understand an individual, no matter if he/she is a god, a mortal human or even an animal.

Time and again, we get a lot of perspective into the political, social and personal perspective of a man, but not a lot of work has been done on the historical women.  Even when they are critically examined, it’s either through men or through a clouded vision of a male patriarchy which tries to define women’s actions and beliefs with respect to the men. Recently a lot of progress has been made to venture into unchartered territory, where a woman is placed first in the context of her environment.

Hema Malini’s ‘Draupadi’, a dance drama held on 4th March 2016, in Siri Fort Auditorium, Delhi was an attempt to break the stereotypes surrounding Draupadi. The program was organized by Divya Prem Sewa Mission to raise funds for the poor victims affected by Leprosy and their family members who are shunned away by the society due to the stigma associated with the disease.

A child talking about Leprosy

A performance depicting the life of Draupadi, through her own eyes, with snippets into her psyche drew our attention to the stage for the entirety of the play’s duration. Draupadi was a beautiful woman, her pride in this beauty for many were a cause of envy and jealousy. However, many view her pride as vanity and here was raised the first question. Is pride in one’s quality or ability wrong? Men are known for their valour, and women for their sacrifice but isn’t beauty too a part of the human being? Subjectivity aside, loving yourself for who you are doesn’t necessarily make one a narcissist, it makes you confident. Draupadi didn’t deserve what happened to her, just because she prided herself in her beauty.



The colourful tones and music of the play set a contrasting balance to the conflicts arising in the play as well as in the lives of the main characters. Did Draupadi, despite the Swayamvar, have any choice in the matter of her husband? Who did she actually love? She was a soul mate of Krishna, his Dharma companion; the play showed how she even desired to marry him, but he called her on the higher command of religion and asked her to marry Arjun. From this moment to the point where she was divided between the five brothers, she had been constantly commodified and thrust from one hand to another as a bargaining chip. Draupadi never approved of it nor was she ‘fine’ with this arrangement. Unlike Krishna, she couldn’t see the long term goals of such a sacrifice.

She questioned her husband Arjun, she questioned her true friend Krishna, and she questioned the politically driven Yudhishtara. She was a woman who united the five brothers who would have fought to possess her beauty but she knew to what end she had become a tool, an object to be owned.


Even the Dharma she was sacrificing herself for never yielded her any results. All wasn’t picturesque. She was replaced by other woman in Arjun’s life. She was forced to spend each year with a different man and pretend that she was happy in her duties of ‘Ardhangini’. The colours associated with her red, not just to depict the sanctity of her wifehood but also to depict the burden she shouldered and with the fierceness she did it.

Hema Malini

How did Dharma protect her? She was easily sold to the Kaurvas in gambling by her own husbands. She was stripped; a woman of dignity, in a court full of elite men and princes and no one took a step forward to protect her. Did Krishna protect her, out of friendship, or himself from the guilt that he faced from the realisation that he had surrender her in his own chess game? Draupadi’s anger reminded one of Shiva’s Taandav dance, but she again begged to calm down and protect her husbands.

Mahabharata on the field was a political fight, a usurping of one power by the other to establish their own empire and ethos. But outside the field, it was a big requisitioning of morality and of a woman’s position in a men’s world.

Draupadi might have felt that due to her one mistake or joke, thousands of men were ripped apart, the ground tainted and homes collapsed, but she never made a mistake. No, she was just a human like any other, who faced censure due to her gender. She was a pawn of the men, used by the men, and for men’s end.

The fragility of a woman’s position in society hasn’t changed from that time and its parallels with the woman’s daily struggles are visible. A woman still faces censure, criticism and is expected to sacrifice by/for the family or the men. This has to change and maybe through more plays like Hema Malini’s Draupadi, there might come a change.

(Note: The play was highly religious in its conception and proposed Draupadi’s position in that context. It was reformative but not revolutionary.)


In a stolen minute with Mrs. Hema Malini, who was very sweet to answer our one question despite being busy:


With the increasing number of rape cases, what do you think women need to protect themselves?

What I find most lacking in today’s women, is their faith in god. I am not saying that religion solves everything but a connection of your spiritual being with the almighty fills you with strength and power, which in some cases will protect you and in others will help you fight evil. As long as God is beside you, your fear loses face and gets replaced by energy. Therefore don’t lose faith in him, ever.


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