Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Saturday, December 02, 2000

Front Page | National | Southern States | Other States | International | Opinion | Business | Sport | Entertainment | Miscellaneous | Features | Classifieds | Employment | Index | Home

Entertainment | Next

Yearning for Chennai ambience

THOUGH other classical dance genres are giving it a run for its money, Bharatanatyam is often seen as the most representative classical dance form of India. Its very name suggests a national rather than regional identity. Geographically, it has the widest spread, both in India and abroad. Like Carnatic music, this southern form has a highly scientific base in theory which makes it easily accessible to students in any part of the world.

List its best known practitioners (like Indrani Rehman and Sonal Mansingh) and you will know the genre has crossed regional and linguistic barriers. It has accommodated iconoclastic take offs in a Chandralekha, fusions in a Mavin Khoo, and jugal bandis in a Madhavi Mudgal and Leela Samson. Dancers living outside Tamil Nadu have adapted it to the music and myths of their region, so that the form is no longer exclusively related to Tamil culture. A teacher in Delhi makes her Sikh student interpret the story of Heer Ranjha for a Chandigarh audience. A Pune artiste turns a Tukaram verse into a bhakti number. A purist guru in Baroda sets Kalidasa's lyrics to Hindustani music for a group show. A Chennai repertory performs Kipling's Jungle Book for British and American audiences.

And yet, to the Bharatanatyam dancer, Chennai remains a Mecca for pilgrimage. Approval from the Chennai critic and audience is honey even to the Delhi dancer who is envied for the advantages she has, such as easier access to national and international fellowships, seminars, awards and art festivals.

A talk with the dancers in Hyderabad makes you realise that the picture is not rosy for residents in the smaller towns.

Take the seasoned Shobha Naidu, who practises not Bharatanatyam but Kuchipudi, a genre rooted in the State. To her Chennai is the cultural capital of the country. ``Tyagaraja was revered by the Tamils. Telugu-born musicians of our times like Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, Balamuralikrishna and Chittibabu were fostered in Madras. I too made my name in Madras, where the press and the spectators are both discerning and impartial.'' Recalling with pride that Rukmini Devi presided over her arangetram she concludes, ``Every State should emulate Tamil Nadu.''

Trained in Kalakshetra, Chennai, Ananda Shankar Jayant, an officer with the Indian Railways, who runs a dance school, notes positive ambience changes in Hyderabad for solo and group performances, as also jugal bandis of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. ``There are few Bharatanatyam artistes here, an advantage for me,'' she smiles. Sometimes she adds one or two Kuchipudi numbers in her Bharatanatyam recitals to satisfy her Telugu viewers. She believes that her group shows have made her popular. She has extended her reach not only with a traditional ``Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum'' but with offbeat, abstract experiments such as ``Jonathan Livingston Seagull'' using free movements and jazz-rock music. Her most talked about show is ``What About Me?'', a feminist cry couched in English poems by Tejdeep, which incorporates Indian music and mythic themes.

And yet ``I must perform in Chennai to get validation. An award from Madras is still the seal of approval for a Bharatanatyam dancer,'' she explains. ``National selection for performances in festivals abroad take place in the capital. The selectors rarely go beyond Delhi and Madras in making their choices.''

With 25 years of teaching behind him, Ramalinga Shastri does not sound hopeful about the Bharatanatyam scenario to Hyderabad. ``It is very difficult to get sponsors or performance opportunities. No money in ticket sales as people are used to free shows.'' He also talks about lack of discernment and awareness at all levels, and about the pressures exerted by over eager parents who want their daughters to ascend the stage much before they are ready for it. ``There is a craze for performance, not for excellence.'' Therefore, the students often lapse into anonymity after their arangetram.

Both the Government and the audience in the State give preference to Kuchipudi. ``Nobody cares about standards anyway. All you need is influence to get programmes, in State or sabha-sponsored venues and festivals.'' Persevering students get to become teachers rather than performers. ``No chance of being recognised by Delhi either,'' he shrugs. ``It is too much to expect an artiste to keep going here in a hostile environment, plus develop contacts in Chennai and Delhi.'' Kala Krishna, who holds a specialist position in performing Andhra Nrityam assuming a woman's identity, is vexed that his Hyderabad base puts him at a disadvantage. He has no access to information to better his career at national-international levels.

Shahstri would like to see more unity among the artiste fraternity which could in turn foster the right ambience for the growth of the art through appreciation courses, seminars, lecdems and programmes. Jayant did organise a national colloquium, but that remains a once-in-a- blue-moon affair.

Nagapriya (disciple of K. J. Sarasa now settled in Hyderabad) agrees and adds, ``Here audiences want speed. The varnam is too long for them unless we edit and jazz it up with fiery footwork. Padam is just out.'' Good reviews in Madras are essential to get recognition.

Training in Madras is an advantage even if Hyderabad has good gurus in Jayant and Shastri. ``In Chennai we are outsiders, here we are locals. Sabhas like SICA and Kalasagaram still prefer to get a Bharatnatyam dancer from Madras rather than give us a chance. In any case solo Bharatanatyam has little value here,'' says young Geetha Ganesan. A more urgent need to foster Chennai links is to see more dancers from different schools.

Finally, I meet Alekhya, an established Kuchipudi artiste, who is also Assistant Professor in the department of dance where both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi are taught in a diploma course which produces more teachers than performers. ``But films like ``Sankarabharanam'' have wrought a sea change in student attitudes,'' she smiles. ``However, there is little encouragement even for the Kuchipudi artistes beyond the city and State. Virtually no trickle down from the capital as ICCR, the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Department of Culture don't look beyond Delhi for grants, international shows and awards. It is very difficult for us to go to Delhi and ask for ``favours'' which are not favours at all. There should be a more broad-based selection.''

The increase in schools and students testify to growing interest in the cyber city for classical dance. Yet, making a living solely as a dancer is certainly tough. ``They give up after marriage,'' (Shobha Naidu). ``Young dancers become TV announcers and anchors,'' (Alekhya). ``They give up after a point,'' (Shastri). ``They get on stage in group rather than solo shows,'' (Jayant). ``They get disheartened,'' (Kala Krishna).

Besides the geographical isolation which blocks national recognition, the Hyderabad dancer - both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi - is culturally disadvantaged due to the lack of discerning audiences and constructive criticism that they believe characterise Chennai. ``We have to be our own mirror, and motivate outselves,'' say Alekhya and Jayant.

The increased State patronage for the arts in the last decade has put heart into the performers. But everyone agrees that to survive and grow, the Hyderabad performer needs more national level incentives, as also ticket-buying audiences and sensitive critics.

- GR

Send this article to Friends by E-Mail

Section  : Entertainment
Next     : An unusual offering

Front Page | National | Southern States | Other States | International | Opinion | Business | Sport | Entertainment | Miscellaneous | Features | Classifieds | Employment | Index | Home

Copyrights © 2000 The Hindu

Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu