‘Meenakshi Vijayam’ bore the Kalakshetra stamp, complete with grand group choreographies.
‘Remembering Rukmini Devi’ was the nomenclature given to the Kalakshetra festival and the packed auditorium every single day was testimony to the fact that this epitome of the classical arts left a strong impact on people’s minds. The first day of this festival featured yet another revival of Kalakshetra’s natya nadakam ‘Meenakshi Vijayam.’ Premiered in 1977, the premise of this visual spectacle is not Sringara but Veera and Adbutha rasas.
The narrative begins with the scene depicting Vidhyavati seeking a boon which then moves to the familiar story of her rebirth as Meenakshi, her childhood training in the arts, her journey of warfare and conquest, the blossoming of her love for Siva, culminating in the marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar.
Rukmini Devi chose to use only Tamil lyrics and in her trademark style, interspersed the narrative with group choreographic dances. Guru A. Janardhanan, who played a role in the 1977 version, has taken great pains to recreate this work by training young dancers, and rehearsing tirelessly to achieve the standards set by his predecessors. His effort bore fruit and the production sailed smoothly.
The main problem that arises today with this and many of the other dance dramas is the duration, which is a trifle too long for our times. The dilemma the director faces recreating a work is enormous. If he chooses to edit it, condensing long superfluous moments to sustain interest, he would be criticised for tampering with Archival work. But if he chose not to, then he has to contend with the present day audience who find it long and monotonous.
Janardhanan, out of respect for his guru’s ideals, chose to present it in its original form. The high quality of dancing that was maintained throughout was a compensation for the long duration.
There were moments of aesthetic appeal in the trademark style of Kalakshetra. A suggestion of the Putrakameshtiyagam was captured in a minimalistic manner by using a cut-out of the homakundam, a single kalasam and two lamps. The young Meenakshi emerging out of fire with a lost look on her innocent face and cute little steps, suitable for her age, captivated everyone with her dancing for lyrics culled from rare Pillai Tamizh verses. The scene where both mother Kanchanamala and daughter Meenakshi worship Siva (at a beautiful altar setting), it was a pleasure to watch their abhinaya wherein both of them used the same gestures for communication, but their individual body language and expressions brought out the age disparity between the two evocatively.
Siva’s entry from the haze of the peaks of Kailasa obscured by clouds, picturised in a stunning set using fabric and lighting design effectively, was greeted with spontaneous applause from the rasikas. The Nagaraalankaram segment was a vibrant medley of dances to the Hindolam, Gowrimanohari and Vasantha.
Rukmini Devi’s knowledge of theatrical device and its judicious use was evident in the bridal alankaram scene. The placement of Siva being ornamented at Kailasa and Meenakshi adorned at Madurai under two spotlights on either end of the stage was a masterstroke in the use of time and space. She had also judiciously alternated the charanams taken from two different songs and set it to two ragas Bilahari and Kharaharapriya to emphasise the different locales.
The costume in the new avatar fell short of the aesthetic sensibility associated with Kalakshetra. The problem was not in the choice of colours but it the choice of lightweight fabric, which looked clumsy in appearance, in the unstitched draping style. The white angavastram for a half white dhoti of Malayadhwaja was also a mismatch but the jewellery and costume of the ganas were well crafted.
The kalari sequence taxed the viewers’ patience because of its length to such an extent that Meenakshi’s journey of combat which comes soon after this scene lost its impact.
The musical ensemble lived up to the high standards of excellence expected from this institution. Indu Nideesh, playing Meenakshi, infused life into the role with her vibrant dancing and sensitive emoting. Shijith Nambiar also danced competently but somehow the vigour and dynamism one associates with the Lord fell short in his depiction. The other dancers performed with commitment.
This Natya Nadakam has all the necessary ingredients for popular viewing, reaching out to a wider audience, provided some editing is done to sustain interest.