Dance The film The Unseen Sequence captures Malavika Sarukkai’s personal and creative exploration of Bharatanatyam
When sauntering up the stairs to the third floor of her guru’s home in Matunga as a child, Malavika Sarukkai would get distracted by the aroma of rasam emanating from a house on the second floor. Her mother would call out from below and prod her to reach the dance class on time. This was the voice that guided Malavika through her life and made her the performing artiste she is today.
These moments between mother and daughter are not the only ones which come alive in The Unseen Sequence , a film by Sumantra Ghosal, which premiered in Mumbai recently. The film is as much a tribute to one of India’s most profound classical dance forms Bharatanatyam as it is to the person who has embodied, reinterpreted and invigorated it. For the filmmaker, it is about an artiste who has dedicated her life to her art. The Unseen Sequence opens with a close-up shot of Malavika’s expressive face. It is March 2012 and she is readying herself to perform at the Chidambaram temple to celebrate 40 years of her dancing career. While performing in front of sanctum sanctorum nothing matters to her. Devotees walk in and out of the ancient temple. Some notice the interplay of the arts — there’s sculpture, poetry, music and dance. “That moment suggests the infinite, which is part of a longer, unseen sequence,” says Malavika.
It is this infinite, spiritual, intangible aspect of life that she strives to seek. “To reach there, one needs to have a sense of wonder. One needs to allow oneself to be vulnerable,” she says. At a time when she is desperate for peace, dance provides it to her, as it does freedom. She avers that she is most vulnerable when she takes the audience through that journey. “This is when I bare my soul open and lift myself away from the world to take flight into a place full of harmony and alignment.”
Director Ghosal says that Malavika is an artiste rooted in tradition with a unique, contemporary sensibility. “The film is not about her: it deliberates upon the valuable connections and departures an artiste makes from a hallowed, unforgiving tradition.”
Today, Malavika combines her rigorous training in Bharatanatyam with a personal need for addressing issues concerning her. After her grandparents died, she decided to confront death through her art to come to terms with it. What has ensued is a rendition that addresses her concern with ageing and what it means to be a person shedding things that adorn youth. Dance for her is not entertainment. “It is a moment of transcendence that fills my soul.”