The credit for redefining Kuchipudi dance by expounding it on the basis of Natyasastra goes to veteran guru Vempatti Chinna Sathyam. Anupama Mohan, one of his fondest disciples and an outstanding performer, considers it a rare privilege to have been associated with the efforts of her guru during these historic attempts. Small wonder then that she has dedicated her life for the popularisation of this unique style, the potential of which she could imbibe by dint of hard work. assiduous work. Kerala benefited considerably from this gifted danseuse over the past decade as she shifted to Ernakulam from Chennai with her husband, renowned film director Mohan. Many Scores are the students and teachers who have undergone systematic training at in Sathyanjali Academy of Kuchipudi Dance of which she is the founder-director. Anupama was in Thrissur recently as part of the annual workshops which the academy organises regularly across Kerala during the summer vacation.
In an interview, she gave a graphic account of how her guru venerated Guru had taken pains to groom her and her batch-mates including danseuses such as Hema Malini, Manju Bhargavi, Bala Kondala Rao and Shobha Naidu. Excerpts from the interview…
Early childhood in Nellore
I was born in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, in an orthodox Zamindar family. In our tradition, the women never stepped outside the home and did not even enter the drawing room. My father, Venkaiha Naidu, who was a good singer, discovered my artistic talent when I was four years old. He took me to Kotah Subramania Sastri who trained me in dance for nearly five years. To the best of my memory, I can say that it was classical dance and possibly Bharatanatyam since I could perform alarippu, jatiswaram…
My tryst with my guru in Chennai was quite a coincidence. When I was eight years old, we went to Chennai to buy costumes and jewellery for me. There, we contacted my father's relatives who were film producers. They took us to Vempatti Pedda Sathyam, the elder brother of Vempatti Chinna Sathyam. He asked me to dance, which I did with typical childish exuberance. He was impressed and took us to his younger brother. Now, when I look back, I feel that it was a defining moment in my life. After watching a short performance of mine, he asked my father to send me to him for training as he could foresee a bright future for me in the realm of dance.
Under my guru's wings
My father took almost a year to arrive at a decision regarding guru's suggestion. Thus, at the age of nine, accompanied by my mother, two younger sisters, and a servant, we shifted to a place adjacent to my guru's Kuchipudi Art Academy in Chennai, which was to become a home to me in later years. My formal education was arranged in the nearby Kesari High School. The mode of training was in gurukula tradition. Guru was a difficult task master. Practice was continuous and tedious. He got incensed very often over our mistakes. Then he would scold us saying: “ Why can't you people go for cooking instead of dancing”? But he was very affectionate, perhaps more than my father. That's why even today, I often go meet him and be with him. Those were the days when the choreography of his first ballet ‘Sree Krishna Parijatham' had been just completed. He would assign roles to me and Bala to see how each character was effective on the stage. Soon followed ‘Ksheera Sagara Madhanam.' The rigorous practise in donning varied roles in turn increased our poise and self-assurance. Also, he had absolute confidence in us. Very often during stage performances, he would announce our roles without telling us in advance what we were about to perform.
I had the privilege of presenting many characters in his ballets, including Sathyabhama, Anasuya, Erukka (Kurathi), Lakshmi and so on. And these won me laurels in India and abroad. Memorable were the performances on the birthday of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, former President of India, then in Sikkim, in Delhi for the Sangeet Natak Akademi and also in European countries to mention only a few. The three-month European tour was eventful as we staged 64 shows in different countries.
As a dancer, films never captured my imagination. But still, I had to act in a few for which my histrionic talent was an advantage. Invitations from Telugu directors came in thanks to unprecedented media exposure soon after the European tour. Notwithstanding my hesitation, I appeared in ‘Aaradhana,' a Telugu film. An invitation for the captivating role in ‘Sankarabharanam' was not accepted. Then there was a stint in Malayalam films. ‘Randu Penkuttikal' served as a springboard to marriage with its director Mohan. He selected me again for his next work, ‘Vaadaka Veedu' so that we could get enough opportunities to meet. By the time this film was completed, we were husband and wife. There were remonstrations, though short, from my parents and even from my guru, but they accepted my decision. However, I left tinsel town.
As a dancer…
I have performed on more than 1,500 stages including several major festivals in India and abroad. But I am still a student earnestly studying this divine form of dance from my guru. Sangeet Natak Akademi honoured me with its Yuva Narthaki Award in 1974 and my Guru's institution gave me the title Natya Visharada. I am an A-Grade artiste of Doordarshan.