Inspired by Saint Tyagaraja's operatic work 'Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam,' dancer-composer Madurai R. Muralidaran presented a newly choreographed piece, 'Prahlada Charitham.' He used some of Tyagaraja's kritis and some of his own compositions (Tamil) as well as Guru Stothram and Narasimha Stothram to bring forth the depth of Prahlada's devotion and the ultimate victory over evil. Muralidaran's senior student Deepa Mahadevan performed the solo dance drama for Nungambakkam Cultural Academy.
'Prahlada Charitham' was disappointingly not poignant and the dominance of nritta had everything to do with it. While the jathis had been cleverly woven into the fabric of the story, like when the young lad is learning martial arts and other battle-worthy skills and when Vishnu's vahana, Garuda, is depicted, the furious footwork during Narasimha's dramatic appearance (misram) and Hiranyakashipu's fearful reaction (khandam) diluted their impact.
The production was also not organised enough. A live orchestra needs to be pat with its contribution but the singers (Kalpana Raghavendar, Gayathri Shankaran) had no idea of their cues and had to be prompted to sing or switch songs. Kalpana's recalcitrant voice made matters worse. Muralidaran became a one-man army in the wings. The overloud volume (even the drone of the electronic sruti box was too loud) and the sub-standard sound system were an assault on the ears, unfortunately.
The 75-minute programme did not afford the dancer and choreographer any leisure. The kritis (‘Sri Ganapatini’- Saurashtram, ‘Etla Kanugonduno’-Ghanta, ‘Vandanamu Raghunandana’- Sahana, ‘Varidhi Niku’- Thodi, ‘Sagarundu Vedalenido’-Yamunakalyani, ‘Vinatasuta’-Huseni and ‘Vishnu Vahanu’- Sankarabaranam) were condensed into pallavi, anupallavi and one charanam line, so their musicality had limited exposure. They were nevertheless enjoyable, enhanced by the musical inputs of V.L. Narayanan (veena) and Suresh Babu (violin).
The customised lyrics acted as bridges between the kritis and speeded up the story. The dramatic encounter was the best segment. As Kalpana's Pantuvarali set the stage, the ragamalika 'Jagam thannil...' depicted the argument between Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada that led to the manifestation of Narasimha.
Deepa's grimace to depict the ghora or fearsome avatar of Vishnu was a bit overdone and did not go beyond mere physicality. Otherwise, the dancer impressed with her instinctive feel for rhythm and her high energy level. The meticulously planned rhythmic flourishes were well executed by guru, sishya and an enthusiastic N.K. Kesavan (mridangam and suddha maddalam) but one would like more space to be given to mood.