EXT. FOREST. DAY.
An untamed forest. Sunlight filters through bright green leaves, and dense underbrush rustles with minute animal life. Otherwise it is quiet, empty, and natural.
ARJUNA, a man in his mid-twenties, stalking through the brush with careful steps. He wears loose pants and no shirt except a sash across his muscular chest. A quiver full of arrows hangs from his belt, and he holds a bow, half-drawn, in front of him.
His eyes focus on something off-camera. He quietens his breathing, crouches, and draws the bow, aiming into the distance.
A young deer with the faintest dapples still on its flanks grazes among the trees. It is too young to tell if it is a doe or a buck, and it does not notice Arjuna hunting it.
A branch cracks.
The deer startles, sees Arjuna, and bounds away.
Arjuna, shock on his face, stands up and looks toward the source of the noise.
CHITRA, a young woman, twenty-four, however, dressed convincingly as a man, she looks young late-teens. She wears a loose cream shirt, rolled to the elbows to reveal strong forearms, and a leather vest that obscures her figure. Her black pants are baggy and practical. A sword hangs from her hip. Her hair is shorn on the sides as a warrior’s mark, and the long top and back are tied into a tight bun. She holds a forester’s longbow and a snapped tree branch.
CHITRA: Why are you hunting in the king’s forest, trespasser?
Arjuna stays on guard and raises his chin.
ARJUNA: Why is a ranger disrupting the hunt of a prince?
Chitra, despite being smaller, matches Arjuna’s haughty body language.
CHITRA: You are no prince of this land. These deer swear more fealty to me than to you.
Arjuna raises an eyebrow and smoothly releases the tension in his bow. He smiles.
ARJUNA: The king of Manipur has clever rangers, and bold, too, to scorn the authority of Arjuna, son of Pandu.
Chitra’s breath catches. The hardness in her eyes changes to shock, then admiration. Color rises to her cheeks, and she suddenly clenches her jaw as if to hide her fascination.
CHITRA: Even a hero such as yourself will need the king’s permission to hunt the forest.
Arjuna spreads his hands and grins.
ARJUNA: I am but a humble exile, friend. Would your king deny one so poor as me a healthy meal?
CHITRA: If you go north to the palace, I am sure King Manipur the Generous will grace Your Honor with a feast in exchange for tell of your noble hunt.
ARJUNA: You mock me with your tone, ranger.
Chitra smiles, some element of this battle of wits bringing excitement forward.
CHITRA: I would not dare, my Lord. They say you can shoot a fruit fly at a hundred paces. I have shot one at two hundred, but as we are standing no more than five apart, I still dare not risk your wrath.
Arjuna starts at this, but then he laughs.
ARJUNA: Does your king have a daughter? I would envy a union with a people so rich with audacity and wit.
CHITRA: There is a princess. She is a bore, though, and cares only for jewels and gossip. You will not find her nearly so lively as me.
ARJUNA: A shame, then, but if I need not waste time courting her, I will have more time to hunt with you–and your brethren–to recover the quarry you’ve snatched from me today.
CHITRA: If the king deems it appropriate, I would not stand in your way a second time.
ARJUNA: I hope to meet you again at the palace, noble ranger. What is your name, that I might praise your defense of his game to the king?
Chitra smiles slightly, and her eyes lower with unspoken knowledge. She does not answer Arjuna’s question, bows her head, and slips away into the forest.
This story is inspired by the episode from the Mahabharata where Arjuna goes to Manipur and marries his daughter to give the kingdom an heir (as the royal family is cursed to only have one child at a time, and the kingdom needs a male heir).
Rabindranath Tagore wrote a play that adds detail to this story and focuses on Chitrangada, called Chitra, and her love story with Arjuna. In his version, Tagore writes Chitra as a woman who was raised as a warrior. She dresses like a man, lives with the men, goes hunting, and basically defies all the gender norms. She falls in love with Arjuna, but because of her upbringing, she doesn’t know how to act on her love, and instead she ends up being snarky toward Arjuna.
I took Tagore’s imagining and ran with it. First, I adapted it into a screenplay format because I’ve never done that before, and it allows more visual details than a stageplay. The challenge with this was that it’s a lot harder to specify a character’s inner emotions when you can’t have internal dialogue. I had to use their physical reactions to clue the reader into their emotions and limit my authorial commentary. Also WordPress is not outfitted to do true screenplay format, so apologies for that.
So my story is about Chitra meeting Arjuna for the first time. Like Chitra implies in the Tagore play, she’s mocking and teasing toward Arjuna, but in little flashes, she betrays her fascination with him. Similarly, I liked the idea that Arjuna would be drawn, perhaps even attracted, to Chitra even while she’s in the guise of a man. It reminds me a lot of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, where Orsino has a crush on Viola even though she’s dressed as a boy. So this is really just a snarky flirting scene, and now Chitra is going to have to go back to the palace and fret about how she’ll get Arjuna to fall in love with her even though she has more traditionally “masculine” inclinations.
Image 1: A forest path. Source: Pixnio.
Image 2: A person shooting archery. Source: Pxhere
Featured Image: Silhouette of a woman with a bow. Source: Pixabay.