O n the stage, he is a paradigm of masculine grace, in the kalari, a strict task master, and when it comes to choreographies, he is versatile. Madhavapeddi Murthy, an exponent of Kuchipudi, is a phenomenon in the dance scenario of the country. One of the favourite disciples of maestro Vempati Chinna Satyam, Murthy accompanied his guru on his tours across the globe. Words fail him while expressing his adoration for his guru who had transformed his fascination for a job in the airlines into a passion for the terpsichorean art. He has been in Kerala many times, both as a performer and a judge for youth festivals.
Recently, Murthy was in Thrissur for a 10-day workshop organised jointly by Navaneetham Cultural Trust and Kalabharathi. Amidst his hectic schedule, he spoke at length about his experiences. Excerpts:
My parents are from Andhra Pradesh but I was born in Chennai. My father, Madhavapeddi Sathyam, was an acclaimed playback singer and he had to his credit around 8,000 songs in all South Indian languages including Malayalam. I can’t name the Malayalam films because that was in the early fifties, well before I was born. As a young boy, I used to watch with interest the dance practice of our neighbour Edavalli Rema, who was training under guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. Back home, I imitated her movements in front of the mirror, but my parents were not amused, perhaps because I was a boy.
Guruji and my father were good friends since guruji was also involved in the film industry as a choreographer. During one of his visits to our home, he happened to see my ‘exploits’ in dance. Then and there he advised my father to send me to him. He took me under his wing on December 3, 1973. It is a day I can never forget because since then, until guruji’s demise last year, I followed him like a shadow.
My training started every day after school got over. It was arduous. For four years, I had to repeat the fundamentals such as adavus, jatis and so on. He taught me no item. But, at the same time, he gave me small roles in his ballets such as ‘Mitra Narayana Charitam’, ‘Sreenivasa Kalyanam’, ‘Chandalika’, ‘Ksheerasagara Mathanam’… This continued up to 1985 when I did my first solo before an invited audience. It was a proud moment for me when guruji himself did nattuvankam for my performance.
A short break
Notwithstanding my confidence as a dancer, I wondered how long a male dancer would be able to survive without any other work. After my graduation I had done a course related to the aviation field. This helped me land a job as a traffic assistant in Vayudhoot Airlines in 1986. I continued to participate in all performances of guru ji ’s, whenever time permitted. But by that time dancing had turned into a passion for me, for which some outstanding performances were instrumental.
Into the world of professional performance
Guruji’s ballet ‘Sreenivasa Kalyanam’ was adapted into Tamil and staged in the Music Academy for which the chief guest was M.G. Ramachandran, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. I donned the role of Siva and Bala essayed Parvathy. The lasya-tandava dance enthralled MGR so much that he came to the stage after the performance and remarked: ‘Siva’s dance was a treat to my eyes’. This was a break. Soon Hema Malini invited me to do the title dance in her new serial ‘Nupur’ that was a hit in Doordarshan. In 1992, I was invited to dance in her production in Hindi, ‘Durga’, a role that I learnt in three days. Thereafter, till date, I have danced with Hema Malini in around 400 shows.
In the role of a teacher
Well before I started my own institution, Siva Foundation in 1995, I used to train students in Kuchipudi. Meenakshi Seshadri trained under me. We used to perform jugalbadhis as she was already trained in Bharatanatyam and Odissi. Ours was the first performance of the Malabar Mahotsav on Kozhikode beach, immediately after the inauguration. Our performances were widely staged even in Kerala in those days.
Kuchipudi dance mainly embraces themes based on mythology. I have numerous ones of this category. But I also had the privilege of choreographing compositions of sitar maestro Pt. Ravi Shankar and also compositions of Balamuralikrishna. Pandit ji personally blessed me after watching my presentation of his ‘Padacharanam’. Thereafter I did six of his works including ‘Charms of India’ and ‘Tarana’. As for Balamuralikrishna, they were mainly tillanas in praise of Vinayaka, Anjaneya, and Krishna. I have also choreographed ghazals that have won accolades. While in Indonesia, I performed to Gamelan music, indigenous to that country.
Photo: K.K. Najeeb
The lasya-tandava dance enthralled MGR so much that he came to the stage after the performance and remarked: ‘Siva’s dance was a treat to my eyes’.