The mirror is a more tangible version of your shadow. Both shadow and reflection in a mirror reflect reality in reverse. .
Yet few of us accept reality, as it may be a bitter pill to swallow.
Coming to an acrid actuality in our system of classical dance, especially Kuchipudi, it is baffling to a rational, though artistic mind, that young male dancers still don female rolesimpersonation, as if compelled to do so, when there are female dancers all around!
Seek out Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma, of the illustrious Kuchipudi tribe of hereditary dancers, who has donned the maximum number of female roles in female attire and he says, “In our days, there was this stricture against women/girls in our family learning or performing dance. We were nomadic troupes who camped and staged shows across the region for days at length. And like all Indian families of those days, we men were the bread-winners and our profession was dance. It isn’t against Natya shastra for a man to impersonate a woman. In fact, it was considered as versatility for an artiste to be able to mould into any gender. In our families, the less masculine-looking figures were chosen for female roles since that would be more acceptable to audience. I performed as ‘Satyabhama’ ‘Usha’ etc. for more than four decades and came to be identified with the characters. Not that I did not do male characters. I played Manohara (Manmatha) in the Telugu movie Rahasyam and the character of Lord Vishnu in Vedantam Raghavaiah’s ‘Ksheerasagara Mathanam’ while Yamini Krishnamurthy was Mohini. ,Whatever be the character on stage — male or female — it had no bearing on my personal life or stature. Sans make-up, I was the head of my family, a man to the core with all my nature in tact. Not even my gait was commented upon, nor did I allow myself to get into the mould.”
Asked if in the contemporary context, female impersonation made any sense, Vedantam does not mince words: “This stricture applies to only our Kuchipudi families. Now that everyone is learning the Kuchipudi dance form, there is absolutely no need for male artistes to take up a female role. Of late stri vesha dharanam is turning into a fad. There is no logic when female dancers abound on today’s stage, to have males performing as females. It’s just carrying the versatility factor too far.”
Vedantam Ramalinga Sastry, principal of Siddhendra Kalakshetram at Kuchipudi, explains the rationality behind female impersonation factor.
“In the Kuchipudi tradition, our families were like wandering monks, pitching their tents, performing overnight and getting back home after a couple of days. There was no way in which women of the families could be exposed to such vagaries of nature with threat to their security and certain personal hitches. Hence, males did female roles as well. It is as simple as all that. It is obsolete in the present day. Virtuosity means being able to don different roles; not get type-cast as female (for male dancers) and lose identity.”
Dancer-guru Kalakrishna who won accolades for his ‘Bhama’ characterisation under Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna explains, “Those were the days when most girl-pupils of my revered guru quit and there was none to showcase his choreography. I donned the female role on his request. Yet I have not restricted myself solely to only these. Now, when female dancers abound, I see no reason for a male dancer to impersonate, more so, in varied items that form a solo repertoire. Even in Yakshaganams, there are female dancers so where is the necessity to don female attire?”
“The desire for a male to dress as female is andefinitely an unhealthy practice but it springs from childhood. WHO research and records prove that boys tend towards female-dominated vocations when their feminine feats are ignored or are not rectified by their elders in childhood. This sort of impersonation, though it begins on stage, might lead to development of certain narcissistic tendencies over a period of time and ruin the young artists mind and physical being. The choice of classical dance per se is neither new among men nor is it a purely a feminine quality. It is a great art form, but it is this desire to don a woman’s costume and enact female roles that is objectionable, keeping the present day socio-cultural milieu in view,” states Dr. R. Radha, deputy director TN AIDS Initiative.
We have had a number of veteran male dancers who did our classical dance proud. In fact, there was a time when most dance gurus were men. Female roles were a challenge, never a criterion. Would our young male dancer take the cue and dance like a man?