Anita Ratnam takes Andal to Gen Next

Anita Ratnam’s ‘Nachiyar Next’ fused traditional and contemporary elements to create a visual tapestry

Published - December 29, 2022 06:00 pm IST

Anita Ratnam and members of her ensemble performing Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Chennai

Anita Ratnam and members of her ensemble performing Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Chennai | Photo Credit: RAGHUNATHAN SR

Andal is a household name in many parts of Tamil Nadu. ‘Vaaranam Aayiram’, ‘Karpuram Naarumo’ and ‘Pallandu Pallandu’ are songs heard in temples in the month of Margazhi. This fascination for Andal permeates to concert platforms during the December Season, with singers and dancers including her songs in their shows.

But, how many people outside of Tamil Nadu have heard of this beloved icon? Her story of intense passion and poetic brilliance needs to be communicated to a wider audience.

Reworking a production she first did in 2003, Anita Ratnam has brought alive the story of Andal to the younger generation in a refreshing manner with her dance theatre ‘Nachiyar Next’, which was presented by Kartik Fine Arts recently at its annual festival.

Engrossing tale

Playing the multiple roles of narrator, foster mother and the inner voice of Andal, Anita weaves an engrossing tale, reciting, singing and narrating the story with a judicious blend of music, dance, poetry and English commentary.

Andal’s story is set in Srivilliputhur in the 8th century (CE), where the temple’s garland maker Vishnuchittan Nammazhwar finds a girl child in the midst of Tulsi plants. Andal is raised in this atmosphere of her father’s love for poetry and devotion to Vishnu, but her love for the Lord goes beyond that of a devotee — hers is the intense passion of a lovelorn woman who seeks, and finally becomes one with the Lord.

‘Villinagarathil vishnuchittan magalaai’ marks the entry of Anita as she begins to introduce Andal. The delineation of varied phases of her life was presented in a refreshing manner, and combined nritta, and an interesting geometry of lines and formations by a group of girls to highlight the significant moments. The tradition of Kolattam, a popular aspect of Tamil culture, was incorporated too.

From ‘Náchiyar Next’

From ‘Náchiyar Next’ | Photo Credit: RAGHUNATHAN SR

From Andal’s early poetic compositions such as ‘Margazhi Thingal’, where she wakes up her friends from their slumber, to the passionate outpouring of a maiden’s intense love in ‘Karpuram Naarumo’, the entire gamut of emotions was explored in quick succession. The entry and exit of characters, the move from Tamil to English narration, poetic expressions to musical renderings, dance to theatre, rituals to storyline — they all flowed seamlessly to form a rich visual imagery.

The sensuousness of Andal’s poetry, where she addresses the conch shell to describe how Krishna’s lips taste and smell (‘Karpuram Naarumo’), and her playfulness and joy, despair and deep desire came across vividly in Archana Raja’s portrayal of Andal .

Beautiful sequence

The dialogue that Andal has with her inner self was captured beautifully in a choreographed sequence. Dancers holding mirrors formed a circle of sorts around Andal and kept moving constantly. Andal’s face reflected on these mirrors, in an engrossing representation of her emotional state and turmoil.

The programme incorporated many popular verses from the Tiruppavai and Nachiyar Thirumozhi, combined with emotional chants of ‘Ranga, Ranga’ at intervals, Anita moved the musical ensemble to the front of the stage, and so the entire stage space was available to the dancers. It was used beautifully — the dancers held on to the side wings as onlookers to the proceedings.

The final sequence of Andal being brought into the temple under a textile canopy and its transformation as a Thiraiseelai (curtain) and the projection of Vishnu’s symbols, the Shanka and Chakra, on it when Andal merged with the Lord was visually captivating.

Sridhar Vasudevan played the role of Vishnuchittan with sensitivity. Madhusudanan Kalaichelvan made a brief entry as an Araiyar.

Archana Raja, Reshma. G, Sruthi Anand, Simran Shivakumar, Sushmita Suresh, Shambhavi Jagadeesh, Nandhini GS and, Madhumitha Sriram were the dancers in the ensemble.

The musical team consisted of L. Subashri Ravi (nattuvangam), AVR Randhini and AVR Roshini (vocals), N.K. Kesavan (percussion), Atul Kumar (flute) and Anjani S (veena). The costumes were by Sandhya Raman and lighting design was by Victor Paulraj.

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