Shobana’s visualisation is all about speed and split-second timing.

Unabashedly glamorous and unconventional, actor-dancer Shobana, who is a former disciple of Guru Chitra Visveswaran and considers Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam her ‘maanasika’ guru, has grown as a gifted artist who revels in the theatrics of a live performance.

There is a constant buzz of excitement on stage, whether it is the orchestra playing at a frenzied pace or her well-trained students from Kalarpana presenting well-timed group choreographies. You may love it or hate it; but you cannot deny the raw talent behind it.

Shobana’s presence and mimetic skills are well-documented, but at first glance, she may come across as indifferent. The frenzy, created by the orchestra, the nattuvanar Revathy and the nimble-fingered mridangam artist (Ramakrishnan) in particular, is for its own sake; but do not be fooled. Behind that facade is a keen dancer who subtly follows every beat in the unpredictable mosaic, who executes the steps with conviction, with or without thoroughness.

Poignant portrayal

The ragamalika varnam, ‘Saamba Siva Sari Paadi Nee,’ in Adi tala penned and composed by the dancer in collaboration with vainika Rajhesh Vaidya, was based on Goddess Kali of Dakshineshwar temple, West Bengal. The lyrics describe the dark-hued goddess who is adorned with a garland of skulls and has her blood-red tongue sticking out... Enough gore you might think, but Shobana chose to be subdued as she described Kali’s birth and Her tantric mysticism.

Even the tongue sticking out was denied its bloodthirsty attributes and given a ‘domestic’ interpretation of how Siva lay on her path and when she steps on him, she bashfully sticks her tongue out. This was enacted by her students as a well-timed scene embedded within the solo presentation.

The music for the varnam too did not follow convention, with no repetition of the pallavi after the mukthayi section or the charanam after each chittaswara and sahitya passage.

Charanam onwards, it was one of the most enjoyable passages that evening with Shobana’s intuitive response to the lilting and dramatically-rendered swaras. It was an unlikely ‘Dasavatara’ (‘Pralayapayodijale,’ ragamalika, Jayadeva) group choreography that caught the imagination of the packed auditorium.

This is a piece that can very easily become repetitive, as each of Vishnu or rather Krishna’s avatars, is pictured in quick succession. Not so here, as Shobana’s inspired visualisation created rapidly changing frames that were suggestive, descriptive or plain dramatic.

The powerful King Mahabali’s arrival on the elephant, the king and his umbrella swaying in unison, Vamana’s growth in size, through an acrobatic dancer who climbed on others to look big, the dramatic breaking of a pillar with a mace and the revelation of Narasimha from within, the monkey army building the bridge to Lanka… each was a memorable snippet.

To deliver so much drama within the classical idiom requires all -- performing artists, the musicians and the dancers -- to be word-perfect. Shobana’s visualisation is all about speed and split-second timing and there is no room for error. Preethy Mahesh and dancer-student Revathy share the credits for the melodious vocals, Sruthi Sagar (flute) and Srividya Viswanathan (veena) for filling the space with melody, and Balu for the additional percussion.

Keywords: dancer Shobana

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