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Changing track

Shobhana says she has realised every challenge in dancing for films. She is now on a `new lease of creative life'.

SHOBHANA SPEAKS hurriedly. Very often she breaks into speech only to halt rather abruptly, switching thoughts, choosing the right word. Sometimes she even tends to brush off a question with a wave of her hand and a monosyllable that clearly expresses her disapproval. Then, at the very next moment, you find her elaborating on the same idea for quite a while, till she stops almost bored. One notices in this extremely talented artiste a bit of restlessness, an urge to establish an identity.

"In films, I think, I did everything possible in dance. Many people were weaving scripts around me tapping my dancing potential. In one of the films, I play a handicapped girl and yet there was a sequence in which I break into a dance. Probably, the writers had their reasons. This was when I got bored. In the little time that I have, there are so many things to do, things that interest me. I'm now on my own voyage, a new lease of creative life," says Shobhana, perhaps explaining the reason for a rather long sabbatical from films and this jumpy state of mind.

There was a perceptible tinge of excitement when she talks of her second Urvasi Award and getting set for the award function to be held in New Delhi in February. "I'm not signing films left, right and centre. There is one project at hand now. I play a dancer in Pamela Rooks' `Dance Like A Man'. It is not that regular dancer role... .Yes, it is the same one based on the play... .the trials and tribulations of an unsuccessful dancer."

Shobhana realises the need to do something different. "I find myself phasing out, engaged in creating music or dance. I want to be totally `dependent'. It is not a question of how many pieces I have composed by now. I'm just beginning to do something. I'm also working on other forms with other artistes... . I'm responding to changes... every artiste should."

These changes have brought about a sea change in the concept and execution of dance. For the multitudes, this change is reflected in revived forms of classical and folk dance forms in cinema. There are many who complain that dance has been degraded as never before. The modern dance choreographer in cinema hardly bothers to think up something original, but there is nothing distinctive either in style or substance. "What we have in cinema today is a new form of dance, a new form of energy. You need to look at everything with an aesthetic eye. Who is to say what is good and what is bad... Western music is music by itself... like world music, the sounds keep changing over the time. The same way our dance, in films, is a mix of Indian folk and classical art, combined with a little bit of commercialism, showmanship, presentation, which is what entertainment is all about. Dance in films has a different language altogether," Shobhana explodes in defence.

Maybe, these changes have brought about the growing genre of modern dance, which questions the very foundations that classical tradition is built on. The consummately controlled graceful movements and artistic aspirations have come under attack as decadent, artificial and unnatural. "I haven't seen much of modern, contemporary dance in India. I think we have a lot of dancers, like Daksha Sheth, who I believe is fantastic. But, I haven't seen her work to comment on it. I have seen some modern choreography, but not that by famous dancers. I found the work very average. But I do know that we have a lot of artistes working in this area," feels Shobhana.

A successful dancer and actress, Shobana now has a "third identity." She is now a teacher, who teaches on and off at her school, Kalarpana. "It is a small school, under a thatched hut -- just as I wanted it to be. I think this school is like the medical profession where you should build up your reputation, slowly. I teach only Bharatanatyam, the only form I know. Ten years from now, I'll be older and it will then be quite difficult to differentiate between the three identities I have," says Shobhana.

Bharatanatyam is traditionally a solo art form but today there is more of group shows. Shobhana attributes it to the changing times and certain circumstances. "The first reason is financial. A lot of money needs to be spent and how many can actually afford to keep spending money, promoting their children, for solo concerts? Today for a solo concert you may need to spend a minimum of Rs 10,000. How many times can one do that? And when a student trains for around 10 years, she surely wants to perform. When you are 25 or so, you can afford to think of the art and the classical aspects of the art. But when you are younger, it is only a performance that matters. So, in order to give chances, teachers group the young dancers. I don't think there is anything wrong in that. There is a beauty in group choreography.

"There is no reason for a dancer to go solo. The arangetram tradition and the rules were set down by one person... somewhere down the line the Thanjavur or Pandanallur style has turned into a Bible... Maybe, 100 years from now there will be a Madras or Alwarpet style. In those days, everything was cheap and so tradition was followed. When parents come to me and insist on an arangetram, I don't care, for it is up to them. I do not insist on this at my school," says Shobhana.

Shobhana comes out as a very practical person, with considerations of time, effort, money and space.

She does not pretend to be idealistic.

She has, perhaps, come to realise that everything is based on give and take, involving active interaction and not on dependence that lasts forever ideally.


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