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Of costume, light and make-up...

D.S.Aiyyelu, Sethu Madhavan and Gopi have been silently working for decades to enhance the look of performers on stage. This year, Bharat Kalachar will honour these three back-stage artists for their specialised talent.

IT'S DECEMBER once again. The fever has set in. Auditoriums have been given a fresh coat of paint and the notes of music and jingle of anklets can be heard all around. It's time for titles and awards.

But has one stopped to think of those people behind the scenes? The costume designer, whose creations give that required effect on stage; the make-up man, who transforms the dancer into an enchanting beauty; the lighting expert, and a host of others such as stage decorators, audio-video personnel and members of the musical ensemble — each one makes a big difference.

They experts have toiled for years with no recognition by way of awards. But, things have changed. Bharat Kalachar decided to honour the behind-the-scenes men. Three senior veterans, D.S.Aiyyelu (costume), Sethu Madhavan (make-up) and Gopi (stage and lights) will be the recipients this year.

Thanks to the glamour of its costume and jewellery, Bharatanatyam enjoys a unique position in our culture today. D.S. Aiyyelu is a doyen in the field of designing dance costumes. His impeccable tailoring and styling have elevated him to the status of a legend, inspiring numerous others to follow his line of work. Aiyyelu's journey began at the age of 12, when an uncle taught him the ropes of tailoring. Later, he joined Ambedkar, who specialised in dance costume. He has also assisted in the costumes for the film, "Chandralekha". Soon, he branched out on his own, and came in contact with the reigning queen of celluloid, Vyjayanthimala. He has worked on her costumes for dance programmes and productions for over 20 years. The film "Amrapali" bears testimony to his skills. The trademark of Bharatanatyam costumes — the pleated fan — has seen many variations from single to triple fans under his expert guidance. Sethu Madhavan came to Chennapattinam seeking greener pastures in the field of politics. But fate had something else in store for the young man. Thanks to the link between theatre and politics those days, his interest in theatre was ignited and he began assisting the make-up artistes. He continued to work with amateur theatre groups and later with the drama company of the comedian, N. S. Krishnan.

He recalls two men who helped him expand his knowledge of the art of make-up — Sivagnanam and the artist, Razak, who taught him about colour application and colour mixing. Those days, since men played the role of women, theatre was an excellent training ground for Sethu to learn the art of transforming the look of actors, and use of wigs and hair-dressing. Sethu too worked on films such as "Meenda Swargam". But the call of dance proved to be too strong for him. Yamini Krishnamoorthy and Kamala were among the earliest to put to use his skills. Though he uses the available colours in the market, he has his `secret recipe' for embellishment — probably the reason why some dancers go unnoticed off stage!

As for Gopi, he started his career with his brother Sampath at a time when Kuppuswamy Mudaliar and Manickam were the leading men in the field of lighting. He branched out on his own to carve a niche for himself. He used to provide lights and mikes for theatre groups such as the T.K.S.Brothers. Later, Y.G. Parthasarathy noticed Gopi and he was asked to do the lighting for the United Amateur Artistes' (UAA) Play, "This is Heaven".

Ever since, there has been no looking back. He worked in all UAA's plays, as also those of Cho. Ramaswamy.

Gopi has grown in strength by understanding the needs of the day. He is constantly on the lookout for new equipment and upgrades his collection. Today, he is sought after by such organisations as the ICCR and the Consulates of various countries. Gopi's services have been immensely utilised by leading dancers for their dance ballets and thematic productions. He recalls his association with Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa in the production "Kaveri Thanda Kalai Selvi" as a memorable one. He has worked with almost all leading dancers of the day.

Today, he lends his technical expertise to various auditoriums. His handiwork can be seen at Kalakshetra where he has designed the lights.

The only grouse the three artistes have is that the State's Kalaimamani Award and Sangeet Natak Academy have not recognised these fields worthy of merit in the awards category.


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