Bharatanatyam exponent and Chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Leela Samson dons her varied roles with élan.
Years fade into oblivion as the diva dances her way with delicacy oozing out of every nerve. Leela Samson is elegance personified! She chooses her words before she utters them; she is cautious, sounds aloof on subjects other than dance. All these traits, particularly evident to a stranger, need not sound as negative attributes; on the other hand, they bring out the sensitivity and sensibilities of the persona in question. Leela Samson, is a true artiste above all other roles she had donned in the course of her life and career.
Training at Kalakshetra under the legendary Guru Rukmini Arundale is not just passing out as a certified dancer or musician or artiste, but, “a way of life.” It carves, chisels, casts and creates a unique person out of you-right from your demeanour to your dress, to your choices in life, your challenges and your inner strength. Kalakshetra learning is a philosophy of life; the dharma of life.. And Leela Samson is no different. Obviously, not wanting to speak about the recent past, she is keen to share her experiences with Rukmini Arundale, despite the book she authored. “Rukmini, in spite of all her detractors’ comments, was a person who delighted in all forms of art in India. She was an innovator: she was so enamoured by the Chaau dance form and was the first to bring to light. She would approach and bring out the traditional folk arts with the same enthusiasm. Today, this is sadly missing in our perspective, I feel. She also was vociferous advocate of art sans vulgarity. Her cleansing or chastising as some like to deride, did not in any way corrupt the art form; it bestowed dignity and aesthetics. She literally spread it across far and wide. She also taught us to learn without fear,” says Leela in the most respectable tone.
Her positive outlook comes to the fore when she further states that all those great people who made a difference in various fields — from Mahatma Gandhi to Rukmini Arundale, should be seen against the backdrop of their times, their circumstances. “We need not impose a 21st century analysis on their work. We should just take the best from them. And honestly, we couldn’t have achieved even a miniscule now with all facilities, of what they did in their times,” she says.
Leela Samson, with a Padma Shri to her crown of awards, a Sangeet Natak Akademi chairmanship to steer, and many more responsibilities, is primarily a performing artiste whose group productions have garnered acclaim world over. “I revisit the old compositions as much as have an open mind to taking in the new and mould it within the traditional framework.” She laments the lack of an Arts policy which would give the traditional arts the much-needed boost. “The art fraternity is relegating the larger issues in the face of micro management. Funds crunch is the biggest impediment and despite this, the Akademi is doing its best,” she says matter-of-factly.
Her counsel to the younger generation of artistes in the changed scenario? “You can no longer dance like a puppet. You got to look into your sahityam (lyric), dig into it deep, explore it and then present it. Only then you can be assured of fortifying your position as a dancer. There is no compromise on rigour and hardwork,” she asserts.