A mong the dance fraternity of the country, Vyjayanti Kashi stands out as a singular combination of a thespian, dancer, and a bureaucrat. She is a scion of the family of Gubbi Veeranna, a legend in Karnataka theatre, and is also the granddaughter of the first IAS officer of Karnataka, J. B. Mallaradhya, who was also the education minister. Her terpsichorean talents were moulded by revered gurus and nowadays she has evolved into a much venerated guru, performer, and choreographer. ‘Dance Jathre,' an exposition on the art of dance that was held in Bangalore last year, speaks for her innovative mind and organisational skills. The fete hogged international publicity, being the only one of its kind to be held in the country so far. Even as the Government of Karnataka showered encomiums on her many times, a few months ago she was appointed as the Chairperson of the Karnataka State Sangeetha Nrithya Akademi. Vyjayanti was in Thrissur recently as a resource person for a national workshop on dance. Vyjayanti spoke at length about her career that spans 30 years. Excerpts from an interview…
Taking up dance
I was born in Bangalore. My father, J. N. Viswanath, was a fan of Vyjayanthimala Bali. He had decided that his daughter would become as famous a dancer as Bali. So I was named after the danseuse. Naturally, I began learning dance as a child. Guru Ramanna, the Bharatanatyam exponent, stayed at home and taught me. In the Convent school where I studied, though, I was more attracted towards sports and athletics. Still I learnt under him without really knowing what I was doing. Very often I would hide from him to avoid classes! He was very strict. In between, my parents shifted me to a Kannada school that taught the State syllabus, which enabled me to familiarise myself with my mother tongue. Now I realise how beneficial that move was in discharging my duties as Chairperson of the Akademi.
I was not at all fascinated by Bharatanatyam and I finally quit learning it. For the next 15 years, I was drawn to theatre. Fortunately for me, a theatre group was looking for a girl with a dance background.
I had the fortune of working with an illustrious group of directors that includes T.S. Nagabharana, R. Nagesh, C.G. Krishnaswamy, Girish Karnad, and my husband, Vijay Kashi. I did lead roles in Dr. Chandrashekar Kambar's ‘Sangya Balya,' ‘Sannevesha,' ‘Yayathi,' ‘Goodu,' and ‘Savvu.' While in college, I had skipped the final examination so that I could don a prominent role in a play.
In those days Kuchipudi guru C.R. Acharyalu used to come to Bangalore. Kuchipudi was a dance form that I had only heard about. On meeting him, he said: “You will be my dancing daughter.”
What he taught was the margam of the classical dance form. My background in Bharatanatyam stood me in good stead here too. The lessons were easy to grasp. He taught me numbers such as ‘Mayura kaouthuam,' ‘Balagopala tarangam,' ‘Ranga puja,' and so on. So it was only because a guru's insistence that performances were accepted.