She can dance, she can jive. And she’s having the time of her life. Meet Kala Master
I am in the swish Poes Garden looking for house number 87. A fruit vendor comes to my rescue. “Eighty-seven? You want to go to Kalaamma’s house?” she asks right away. “It’s behind Jayalalithaa madam’s house,” she says. Near the former Chief Minister’s residence, I am stopped by security personnel. Once I tell them I have to go to dance master Kala’s house, they tell me to “take a left turn. It’s the third house on the right.”
She has helped stars make the right moves on screen (she’s choreographed songs for over 1,500 South Indian films), done several live star and cultural shows (she once made 700 policemen hop, skip and jump to her beats) and has now put her best foot forward on television. Apart from being a popular judge for the Super dancer show, she is doing dance reality shows, “Maanada Mayilaada” and “Odi Vilayadu Paapa” (Kalaignar TV).
Away from the din of the sets, she sits in her well-appointed duplex house ready for the photo shoot and interview. As the photographer zooms in on her and gets clicking, the chatty choreographer narrates her success story, step-by-step.
Story of struggle
“You know, I grew up with my six sisters in a one-room house. My parents’ struggle and sacrifices still move me to tears. I don’t understand how some children end up sending their parents to old-age homes. Even as a teenager, I was determined to make it big in life for the sake of my parents. They have been my idols, my strength,” she says, looking wistfully at her father’s photograph on the wall. “I wish he had lived longer to see my son. After years of sweat and toil, I am enjoying life now — a comfortable house, a cuddly nine-month-old son Vidyut, and a caring husband Mahesh. After Vidyut’s arrival, I take better care of myself and think as much about home as work,” she smiles. Born with a restless pair of feet, Kala used to accompany her sister to the Bharatanatyam class. “My sister was not much interested, but I got hooked to the art form. Knowledge of the classical gives you the confidence to think differently.”
At 12, Kala joined her brother-in-law dance master Raghuram, as his assistant. “Actors would look at me and comment in a lighter vein, ‘How can we dance to this pint-sized girl’s tunes?’” she recalls. She stood in for Raghuram for “Punnagai Mannan” and it changed the rhythm of her life. “Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal”, an independent assignment, came her way and Kala became Kala Master.
From 1994 to 2004, it rained offers. Kala virtually lived on the sets, doing three shoots a day and travelling all over South India. She simultaneously worked for Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films. “It was tough, but it gave me a creative high. Appreciation, awards and monetary rewards were there too. Of course, I missed several family functions and the fun of the growing-up years. But, no regrets. After all, dance is my calling.”
Talking about her small screen foray, she says, “It just happened. I got a call from Kalaignar TV one day, asking me to do a dance show. I was not sure of taking up a mega project, but they persisted. Thanks to them, I’ve discovered the wide reach of this medium and the joy of becoming a household name.”
But what excites her most is the platform these shows offer to talented youngsters. She does not agree that these programmes affect the psyche of the participants. “It depends on how you deal with them. I always tell my judges not to be harsh. Since I have come up the hard way, I know the significance of such opportunities and exposure. Even with my students (she runs five dance schools across the city), I cannot tolerate indiscipline and dishonesty. But, I am also their friendly akka.”
So what keeps her on her feet? “God’s blessings, confidence, patience and a constantly ticking mind.”CHITRA SWAMINATHAN