DOCUMENTARY Kottakkal Sivaraman and Astad Deboo dancers from diverse styles form the subject of two short films, to be telecast over the next two weekends.
Two documentaries to be telecast on NDTV's Documentary 24x7 over the next two weekends put the spotlight on two faces of Indian dance - the traditional and the contemporary. If 'Minukku' traces the life of Kathakali veteran Kottakkal Sivaraman, 'The Sword and The Spear' follows modern dancer Astad Deboo and his team in Taiwan.
Let's begin with the traditional. Through 'Minukku,' National award-winning filmmaker M.R. Rajan allows viewers into the life of one of Kathakali's most acclaimed exponents. Told through the eyes of famed Malayalam actor Nedumudi Venu, the documentary sings paeans to the septuagenarian who is credited with revolutionising the portrayal of female roles in Kathakali. He is considered by many as the undisputed 'king' of stree vesham. Characters such as Sita, Poothana, Draupadi, Rukmini, Damayanti, Sairandhri and Mohini have come alive for over five decades whenever Sivaraman has taken the stage. Rajan peppers his film with interviews and clips from Sivaraman's legendary performances, including Sairandhri in 'Keechakavadham' opposite Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair (as Keechaka).
For the 1936-born Sivaraman, his first classical steps were taken under the watchful eyes of his guru and uncle Vazhenkada Kunchu Nair at the PSV Natyasangam in Kottakkal. "My life has indeed been special," he tells Venu, his voice filled with emotion. "I still remember the day I joined. It was June 29, 1949. After three days, I was paid three rupees. And I felt like a king!"
Over the years, he perfected the art of stree vesham and went on to gain name and fame. His humble Karalmanna village thus affixed its name on the Kathakali map. Though Sivaraman has acted with artists of several generations across north and south Kerala, his teaming up with Kalamandalam Gopi was indeed extraordinary.
The photographs that adorn the artist's modest tiled-roof home set in sylvan surroundings tell a story of grit and glory, be it his first performance as Damayanti in Delhi, him posing with Pandit Nehru, receiving various awards including the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi and his portrait as a young man.
There are many poignant moments in the film. Watch the 70-year old disciple prostrate before his nonagenarian fellow dancer and mentor Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, and you smile. Observe him teach two young girls and you admire his spirit. That's Kottakkal Sivaraman for you! The cartoons by E.P. Unny at the end of the film convey important moments of Sivaraman's dance career, and put the artist's life in the right perspective.
The Deboo story
Moving from the traditional to the modern, the second short 'The Sword and The Spear' by Sunil Shanbag, captures one of Astad Deboo's tours abroad. Considered among India's foremost contemporary dancers, Deboo's life has been a constant quest for exploration, to create a style that bridges time and cultures.
This film celebrates Deboo's collaborative effort with the Thang-ta martial arts performers from Manipur, and picks up the dance company during a tour of Taiwan. Shanbag follows the troupe and in the process, examines the relationship between Deboo and the Thang-ta dancers. For Shanbag, it was easy as he has worked as a designer and resource person with Deboo. And his admiration for Deboo comes across in this film.
The film opens with Deboo directing the dancers on stage. And then the camera moves backstage to zoom on the four young dancers whose faces are lined with tension and at the same time, excitement. Then they touch Deboo's feet and the mood is set. Finally, it is show time. Deboo and the dancers take centre stage, the fluidity of Deboo's body language juxtaposed beautifully with the stiff yet kinetic movements of the martial art. There's absolute silence from the audience.
Talking about such creative efforts, Deboo, who has trained in Kathak and Kathakali, says he has evolved a dance language of his over the years, and working with people from other artistic disciplines has only widened his scope to improvise.
Shanbag's lens also provides a peek at these dancers' lives. They come from small villages and are willing to adjust and adapt to their surroundings. One of them recalls, "We even ate cactus in Mexico once!" But their happy smiles are infectious. Even Deboo is happy walking past busy market places and restaurants, mingling with the boys, bringing a sense of oneness and team spirit. Truly, art does break barriers!
Telecast details: 'Minukku' will be shown on October 17, 3 p.m. (repeat October 18, 1 p.m.). 'The Sword and the Spear' hits the screen on October 24, 3 p.m. (October 25, 1 p.m.). On NDTV Documentary 24x7.