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In honour of the thespian couple

Smitha Rajan is indeed a chip off the old block, for she scrupulously follows the tradition kept alive by her illustrious grandparents, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair and Kalyanikuttyamma. She talks to K.PRADEEP about her forthcoming show at Kochi.

SHE SOUNDED a bit nervous. Surprising, for Smitha Rajan, has graced over 1000 stages all over the world. Yet this time, perhaps the occasion seemed to give her cold feet. Smitha is preparing a tribute to her grandparents, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair and Kalyanikuttyamma. This show, which will showcase the essence of kathakali and mohiniattam, will be staged at the T.D.M. Hall on October 12. On October 2, she would be performing at the Soorya festival in Thiruvananthapuram.

"I was perhaps most fortunate to have such illustrious grandparents. They were responsible in instilling this love for dance. The dance school that they set up in Tripunithura, Kerala Kalalayam, is celebrating its Golden Jubilee this November. Unfortunately I will not be here during that time. So, this will be my way of honouring my grandparents, my gurus. It is the only offering I can make, one that would have surely pleased them," said Smitha, who now runs a dance school in O'Fallon, Missourie. "It is a branch of our own school in Kochi, `Nrithyakshetra.' We have around 20 students, most of them professionals. All of them are there not for the heck of it. They are serious about dance. Two of them, Anuradha Chelappa and Sneha Krishna Pillai, are now ready for their arangetram, which will be sometime this yearend," added Smitha.

Rehearsals are on in full swing at Nrithyakshetra, where her mother, Sridevi Rajan, now teaches mohiniattam. "It was my mother who initiated me into mohiniattam. It was the beginning of a new affair, a passion, which still moves me. Though I performed my arangetram in bharatanatyam when I was barely five, then strayed into kathakali. I still continue to perform in both these classical dance forms, but my primary focus, at least for the last fifteen years, has been mohinattam," said Smitha.

For the October 12 show, Smitha will perform the Ramasaptham, the seventh item in a mohiniattam concert. This will be followed by a thillana in Sankarabharanam, set to tripuda tala. "The performance will begin with the gurusmarana, in which Sandhya, my younger sister, and me, will perform a specially choreographed piece, which will be a combination of kathakali and mohinattam. The lyrics have been penned by my mother," informed Smitha.

There was one character in kathakali that Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair immortalised. It was considered to be his masterpiece, despite excelling in various roles during his long, memorable career _ Poothana in Poothanamoksham. And the thought of staging this as a tribute to her grandfather gives her goose pimples. "I'm really nervous. My grandfather excelled in this role. Comparisons would be foolish. I hope I can at least do justice to the role," Smitha said with a smile.

Smitha is not averse to group performances or jugalbandis, but given a choice she always prefers a solo performance. "There are a few dance items, which have to performed as a group. Some of the jugalbandis, the well-rehearsed ones, are an experience. But there is nothing like going on stage alone. That is when you get to improvise on your abhinaya," elaborated Smitha.

Mohiniattam, like most of the other classical dances, have marked, different styles and their exponents. And sadly some of the basic tenets of this art form have been flouted in the name of innovation. "Traditional is a very tricky word to use to describe my style. I would rather say that I stick to the roots of mohiniattam. I have not compromised on that rich heritage handed down by my grandmother. I will not dance with those garish coloured costumes, which unfortunately seems to have been accepted by many reputed dancers. There are very strict norms regarding `ahaarya' in mohiniattam and they are very relevant," felt Smitha.

Kerala, Smitha feels, has always been reluctant to honour their own artistes. Despite her lineage, Smitha's progress was never easy. She turned professional at the age of 12, began teaching when she hardly 14, was inducted into the panel of performing artistes for Doordarshan two years later. She won accolades and honours from various organisations outside Kerala and abroad but Smitha is still bitter about the way many people tried to clip her wings. "I have gone through hell here. I won't call this competition. It is merely jealousy. This, despite having the backing of my grandparents. But I'm glad that I managed to survive. Today I'm focussed on my research in mohiniattam, my school and of course my performances," Smitha signed off.

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