Sharp, smart silhouettes in traditional Indian handloom. Dance productions that explore the classical repertoire. Kutcheris that elaborate the magic of Carnatic music. Tamil dramas in a variety of genres, from slapstick comedies to mythology... Chennai’s rich cultural legacy lives on. Lakshmi Krupa speaks to a few talented youngsters who hold on to their roots in the face of change

Anaka Narayan, Designer and Owner, Brass Tacks

In the world of fashion, Anaka Narayan’s story is one of self-reliance and enterprise. Even as young designers look to milk the ‘Indian’ appeal abroad in anyway they can, Anaka returned to her roots and decided to, instead, bring world-class cuts and silhouettes to Indian fabric, and in the process gave local crafts a much-needed facelift. “I grew up in a beautiful home with trees, terracotta bricks, hand-woven material and hand-block printed clothes. So I have an affinity for that kind of aesthetic,” Anaka says, “These are the kind of things I would call tasteful.” She ventured into making her own line with Indian fabric when she realised that clothes made from it had the same fitting for men and women. “This was the late 1990s and I was shocked at how these clothes where like pillow cases,” she laughs. Anaka now works with local material in earthy tones — think ikat, jamdani — giving them a new look with the kind of cuts she has seen abroad. “People sometimes complain that I don’t make plus-sized clothing but I am afraid that goes against why I wanted to start Brass Tacks, to make well-fitted clothes. The next complaint is about my pricing. But I take time to educate them. Most of my work is not with products of mechanised looms. There is a lot of human intervention and hand work. This education is important, I think.”

Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon, Bharatanatyam dancers

This Bharatanatyam duo has never felt the need to look beyond the variety that their dance form has to offer. The husband and wife team, trained at the city’s foremost dance school, Kalakshetra, believes that “there is a lot of scope in the traditional way of presenting a Bharatanatyam margam or even a thematic presentation.” Says Shijith, “Whatever we have learnt and seen in Kalakshetra inspire us when we work on new projects.” Parvathy believes that “more than precision and coordination, dance is about being able to touch one’s soul with a performance. It is not necessary to dilute the art form for a contemporary appeal.”

Sriranjani Santhanagopalan, Carnatic singer

Sriranjani remembers listening to Carnatic music from when she was really young. The singer, who is the daughter of the well-know vocalist Neyveli Santhanagopalan, says, “I never thought I would take up Carnatic music but when I completed class X my father encouraged me to pursue it because he thought I was doing well.” While musical experiments are the order of the day, Sriranjani feels that keeping things traditional pays off in the long run. “I have nothing against fusion. Actually I admire those who can do it, but I think one needs to have a good understanding of different genres for it.” She feels that she is blessed to have her father for a guru. “I don’t want to negate his influence on my music by moving away from what he stands for. I am also nervous to broach this topic with him,” she laughs.

Karthik Bhatt, Tamil theatre artiste

A young Gujarathi, shining bright in the Tamil theatre scene in Chennai, that’s Karthik Bhatt in a nutshell. A lot of young people, in their college days, get involved in theatre and then on finding a job, move on. But a handful of young people, like Karthik are carrying the torch of Tamil theatre forward. “I enjoyed theatre while in school and I am a part of three different groups,” he says. Karthik is a member of Chennai Drama House, which has been dubbed the next big thing in Tamil theatre, Shraddha and Dummies Drama. “If you grew up in Chennai, there is no way you haven’t watched S.Ve. Shekar and Crazy Mohan’s dramas. They have had a huge impact on me,” he adds. “From an advocate to an isthriwallah I have had a chance to play a host of different characters and it is heartening to see patronage for our plays. We have taken our performances to other cities too. By proving that young people can provide clean humour, we have struck a chord with audiences across the State,” he says.

Chennai Central at The Hindu celebrates Madras Week

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