Natyanubhava, a film by Sharada Ramananthan documents the drama, the human elements and other facets of Indian Classical dance forms

As the padam ‘Payyada Pai Meede Jeri’ plays on in the backdrop, danseuse Priyadarsini Govind performs. The scene depicts a mature woman’s reaction to being spurned by her lover. Priyadarsini demonstrates to the audience what shringaram (romantic love) means. The inimitable Pandit Birju Maharaj recites kathak bols as he explains how all of life is dance itself. He speaks lovingly of all things in Nature and how the Classical dance form depicts everything naturally — the earth and all the planets dance in the sky, the ocean’s waves touch the shore and head back, like the ‘aarohan’ and ‘avarohan’ in music. Chitra Visweswaran portrays the Ardhanareeswarar; Ileana Citaristi describes her long and momentous journey from Italy to Orissa to learn Odissi from Kelucharan Mohapatra and how in his household dance lessons were always organic — a continuation of real life; Manipuri dancers depict a scene from Krishna’s life; Sandhya Raju performs Kuchipudi on a brass plate; Mallika Sarabhai talks about the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts and the barriers her mother Mrinalini Sarabhai had to overcome before she could take South Indian dance forms to the Western part of the country; a Sattriya performance extols Rama; and the spiritual and the sensual worlds collide delightfully in an Odissi piece by Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy…

The film Natyanubhava, produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) with support from the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, directed by Sharada Ramanathan aims to introduce those familiar with India’s dance traditions and novices alike to the intricacies of its Classical forms. And what an introduction this is! Imagine being taught by the who’s who of today about the workings as well as the philosophies of dance. Indeed, all of India’s Classical dance forms rise from a deep philosophical tradition. The movie divided into two parts, Darshan (The seen and unseen) and Yatra (Journey), explains how it is believed that it was Brahma, the creator himself who first culled the Vedas to come up with the form and how the churning of the ocean by ‘asuras’ and ‘devas’ was the first act of dance.

From Kathakali and Mohiniyattam to Koodiyattam, the film also focusses on Kerala’s unique contribution to India’s dance repertoire. Dancer Chitra Visweswaran and S. Janaki, executive editor of Sruti magazine, have donned the role of researchers for Natyanubhava that travels across the country to document India’s dances.

Visual poetry

Madhu Ambat’s camerawork in the film is exceptional, capturing the drama and human elements of the different dances and dancers most gracefully. With music by Lalgudi Krishnan, and Bombay Jayashri and Abhishek Raghuram lending their voices too, the film also boasts excellent sound that is integral to all good dance performances. From illustrating the guru-sishya parampara to the clever use of contemporary dance to explain the nuances of classical forms, Natyanubhava covers “5,000 years of tradition in 52 minutes”, as the director said at the end of the film screening in Sathyam cinemas. The screening was attended by the cast and crew as well as film personalities such as director Vasanth.