Repetitive format and inadequate visualisation brought down the effect of this well-planned production.
If a beautiful setting, sumptuous lighting, well-chosen compositions, appropriate lyrics and inspiring music were enough, ‘Sri,’ presented on the inaugural day of Kartik Fine Arts art festival, by Krithika Subrahmanian, a senior disciple of veteran artist Sudharani Raghupathy, would have been a runaway success. The irony was that ‘Sri,’ a sum of good things, did not add up.
While prayerful chants such as the Sri Suktam, Ambrani Suktam, Chatusloki (Alavandar), Gunarathnakosha (Parasara Bhattar), Ashtalakshmi Sthotra and others on goddess Lakshmi formed the basis of ‘Sri,’ beautiful music composed by Dr. Rajkumar Bharathi, Kalpagam Raman and G. Srikanth, together with stunning visuals from an aesthetic setting (V.V.Ramani) and sumptuous lighting (Murugan), created an ethereal aura. So, when Krithika emerged from the shadows of a darkened stage, lit only by lamps, it was almost as if the goddess was appearing out of nowhere.
The solo Bharatanatyam recital presented the goddess Lakshmi as ‘Sri,’ the embodiment of auspiciousness, inner and outer prosperity. Under the guidance of K. Venkatesan and Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao, her attributes were expounded through carefully chosen prayers that spanned centuries, from the pre-sixth century Vedic age Sri Suktam, to the contemporary Ashtalakshmi Stotra, dedicated to the Besant Nagar temple deity, along with specially-written lyrics in Sanskrit by Dr. Rao. The visuals were filled with motifs of the lotus, the Sri Chakra (not to be mistaken for the Sri Yantra) and to a lesser extent, the elephant.
Commencing with a special jati by K.S.R. Anirudha, ‘Om tam nam..... Na ta nam...’ (Adi) that was suggestive of the Sri Chakra, the Sri Stuti was the most symbolic piece of the repertoire; the warmest being the romantic interlude between Vishnu and Lakshmi compiled from the Gunarathnakosham and tuned by G. Srikanth, wherein the poet describes their passion through the hours of dusk (Marwa), midnight (Bhagesri) and dawn (Bhatiyar) with such vivid imagery.
What let an otherwise well-planned production was the inadequate visualisation and the low-energy dancing. The abstract compositions would have benefitted with some embellishments such as swara passages to enhance the mood or stories to underline what has been said, instead of sticking to the literal meaning only. The recital was word-heavy and the format grew repetitive after the first two pieces.
There was, however, creativity in the opening and closing scenes when a Lakshmi bhajan in Sindhubhairavi (Dr. Rajkumar) was played on a darkened stage, allowing for a devotional mood to develop. Alas, ‘Sri’ did not rise up to its full potential; it was like a collection of beautiful Raja Ravi Varma paintings, that I could picture but not experience.