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Updated: December 21, 2010 18:02 IST

Storytelling, Sonal style

SAVITHA GAUTAM
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ON A NEW PATH: Sonal Mansingh. Photo: D. Krishnan
The Hindu ON A NEW PATH: Sonal Mansingh. Photo: D. Krishnan

After Bharatanatyam and Odissi, it's natya katha from Sonal Mansingh, who celebrates 50 years of her artistic journey this year.

A conversation with Sonal Mansingh is like going on a roller coaster ride. One moment her eyes have a faraway look as she spouts high philosophy and the next moment they light up as she talks animatedly into her mobile phone about lighting arrangements for her upcoming show.

Whatever it is Bharatanatyam, Odissi or now natya katha, the dancer does it with panache and passion.

Natya katha? What is that, you ask. Sitting in the artistic settings of the Raj Bhavan, Sonal explains, “I call it natya katha because this form of story-telling also uses ahbinaya.”

The form took shape “at a get-together during Janmashtami in Delhi, where my friends asked me to sing. I sang on Krishna; I chose some Meera bhajans and then went on to explain the meaning. I used abhinaya to elucidate. And viola! Natya katha was born!” says the innovative artist with a twinkle in her eyes, even as she patiently poses for photographs. The katha is titled ‘Krishna Ranga Raanchi' (it means drowning in Krishna).

Into her 50{+t}{+h} year as a performing artist with innumerable laurels resting on her light shoulders, including the Padma Bhushan, Sonal quips, “When you have been doing something for so long, over and over again, you absorb it all without even realising it. So, when I sit down, thoughts and interpretations simply flow; it's what I call controlled abandon or spontaneity. What I try to do is decode, demystify and provide new insights into age-old scriptures and verses; in what I call the Sonal style.” Then she laughs, “This does not mean I have become a swami and renounced everything! I love life and enjoy it to the fullest.”

One gets glimpses of this energy when she recites slokas lucidly while planting a Bhima bamboo sapling to flag off an eco-initiative launched inside the Raj Bhavan by Ayesha Singh, the grand-daughter of the Governor of Tamil Nadu Surjit Singh Barnala. Her friendly demeanour charms the people present there.

Natya katha has taken Sonal to various parts of the country, including some remote places in Chhattisgarh and Orissa, “where corporate houses have invited me to perform for members of the staff. I have a fabulous time.” Her forthcoming natya katha themes include tales of Siva and Devi.

This does not mean Sonal will slowly phase out her Odissi performances. “Why should I? Natya katha is an addition to all the other endeavours of mine.”

For Chennai-ites, Sonal will present vignettes from Krishna's life – birth, childhood at Mathura, Dwaraka, Draupadi, Sudama and more – to audiences in “English mainly. I have chosen some Telugu and Kannada kritis, Meera bhajans and verses from the Gita Govind and other texts.”

The Odissi dancer's team comprises her trusted lieutenant for decades Bankim Sethi (vocals), Abrar Hussain (sarod), Rajat Prasanna (flute) and K.N. Pradhan (pakhawaj).

She will perform tomorrow (December 23), 6 p.m., at Asthika Samajam, Venus Colony.

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