SNA Award recipient Nandini Ramani on balancing the allied worlds of dance, drama and writing

Last month, Nandini Ramani received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2012 for her overall contribution to the performing arts from the President of India. She is a dancer well trained in music and Sanskrit drama, besides being a prolific writer. Excerpts from an interview:

What kind of training did you go through?

I am trained in Carnatic vocal music, Bharatanatyam, and acting in and directing Sanskrit dramas on stage, in a way completing the full cycle of the three-fold aspects mentioned in the Sangita Ratnakara, namely, “Gitam, Vadyam tathaa nrityam, trayam sangitamuccyate”. I was born and brought up in a rich cultural background; my illustrious father, Dr. V. Raghavan, renowned Sanskrit scholar, provided and nurtured me with plenty of artistic opportunities to groom myself in my growing years. I enjoyed the benefit of learning from legends like T. Balasaraswati, K.Ganesan of the Tanjore Bharatanatyam lineage and Prof. B. Krishnamurti and T. Mukta from grand musical traditions. I was also provided with a rich atmosphere of music and dance by seeing the performances of the all-time greats during the golden period of these art forms. My training under Balasaraswati started at the Madras Music Academy on its campus. Vocal music training began at home with Prof. B. Krishnamurti. Both were begun around the age of five; specialisation in dance music with T. Balasaraswati first during the classroom sessions and privately with T. Mukta later in the early 80s.

How did you manage to master in so many areas?

My artistic interests are all allied areas. Hence, from the practical sides of these forms, namely the study of Sanskrit, vocal music, Bharatanatyam and acting/ directing Sanskrit plays, blending and merging my works happened without much effort. Therefore, making statements on paper through dance-writing also came in with ease; being a performer of Bharatanatyam certainly gave me the strong base to put down my ideas connecting the text and the context of the dance traditions.

Since you are a dancer, actor, director and writer rolled into one, to which one do you give priority?

I believe in hard work and multitasking and I constantly seek higher goals in my artistic path. And I am still working hard.

As an art critic-cum- come performer, what is your opinion on the present day scenario?

In these days of fast and quick result-oriented approaches, the role of an art-critic is not taken seriously, I feel; getting a review in the art columns of the newspaper fulfils one of the requisites on the agenda of the artiste. Not much can be expected to happen in the future performance of an artiste because of a “good”, “fair” or “bad” review. But it has become a norm or dharma to follow a routine in this regard. So the relevance of the critic’s existence is, I feel, only a matter-of-fact practice.

Your feelings on getting this prestigious award...

Receiving the SNA Award from the President of India has been a great moment of joy. In fact, I was told that I was the only performer-cum-scholar under this category in the last two decades to be a full-time practitioner too; in the earlier years this award went only to scholarly writers/ authors.

Who were the people guiding and inspiring you?

My father and gurus inspired me immensely and it is their guidance that has made me what I am today. Each of my gurus has been unique in his or her own way, both in inculcating the art as well as teaching me the values of our arts and disciplining my approach with true dedication and commitment for life. All of them are old-timers who never cared for any favour or falsehood. They stand out for their immortal works and genuine achievements.