Sumantra Ghosal’s film The Unseen Sequence is not only about Malavika Sarukkai, but also about the “connections and departures” that Malavika makes from tradition
When he first set out to make the film, he hadn’t really planned on what to bring on screen. But by the end of it, says Sumantra Ghosal whose The Unseen Sequence was recently screened at the Bangalore International Centre, he was quite secure in what he wanted to do.
“What I wanted to do was to describe three journeys, two are compelling journeys of the dance itself,” he says. The Unseen Sequence is a film about Padma Shri award winning Bharatanatya exponent Malavika Sarukkai.
“The journey of the dance started on the temple and ended on stage. It started off as ritual and ended as performance and now I feel it’s about going forward to what to do with performance, how can it move into other directions. The second journey is of the dancer Malavika who had been dancing for 40 years when I started making the film. She had achieved a certain level of dance so one could trace that journey and also begin to see what other journeys were coming out of them,” adds Sumantra who was inspired to make a film on the artiste after watch her performance in Mumbai.
Sumantra explains how the film is not simply about Malavika ; it reflects upon the “connections and departures” that she makes from the tradition. “I didn’t try to do that. She does that and therefore it’s reflected in the film. When I say the connections and departures, I mean when you are dancing in a formidable tradition like Bharatanatya, which has many rules, regulations, a long and hoary history to it, then you could be entrapped by that and end up repeating what people have done before you,” he explains.
“To escape from that idea, you need you have personality, perseverance, patience and ideas because a combination of all these things will then allow you not to rebel against the tradition but to make it more malleable, to make it more elastic to suit yourself. I hope that is reflected in the film.”
The third journey that Sumantra makes in the film is his own, since he knew nothing about Bharatanatya before he embarked on the project.
“It was a journey of discovery and that was exciting because you don’t just discover the dance, you discover mythology, you discover Tamil texts, a whole culture,” he says.
“I engaged with the subject by being a good Brahmo-Bengali and doing lot of homework. I read up, Google the internet helped a lot and I made the film over two years. So it was a gradual learning it wasn’t as if suddenly learning descended on me. It was a discovery of things that excited me or interested about the medium. So the film is a reflection of the areas that I pursued in the end.”
Another aspect of the dancer that the film brings out is her spiritual dimension, an integral part of her dance.
“Malavika talks about how the spirit is more important than the person and how it moves and propels her into dance and into various choreographies. I am not a particularly religious person and it was not a task I had given myself. I think it happened because of my subject and her nature. So the film looks at those ideas of how the spiritual, metaphysical informs the way you live your life and dance your dance.”