Dance

I am always a student: Vyjayantimala Bali

Vyjayantimala Bali  

Age has not withered her art. Vyjayantimala, is a true ‘Sthithapragna’ — one who is firm in her thought and action, with unswerving loyalty to her chosen Natya lineage, amidst her many life and career commitments. Working in two different cultural arenas, this veteran has proved her integrity by preserving the purity of her Natya. It is astonishing how she still follows the rich Thanjavur bani that she devotedly learnt from doyen K.P. Kittappa Pillai. Her deep involvement in attending to the fine details of nritta and abhinaya in this style, is something that every young dancer should emulate. There is so much grace and poise in her performances, even today. It is hard to believe that this picture of elegance is 85 and has completed 76 years of her art journey.

In other words, Vyjayantimala Bali’s anklets have been tinkling almost her entire lifetime. The milestone will be celebrated this evening. Having observed and admired this veteran from close quarters for many decades, this writer considers it a rare privilege to conceive and coordinate ‘Anantam... Aanandam,’ a tribute to one of the finest Natya exponents, a living legend, who kept her film glamour away from the stage and who instead embellished her art with new interpretations.

I am always a student: Vyjayantimala Bali
 

Major cultural organisations under the Federation of City Sabhas of Chennai, the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi and Tamilnadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram among others come together to celebrate this icon of Bharatanatyam, who has mesmerised audiences for nearly eight decades. . They watch in amazement as she imbues her performances with expertise, variety and substance, and above all energy that comes from discipline and devotion.

Be it Andal, the enchanting Khambodi Varnam — ‘Kaana Aavalaanen’ or the lilting Dhanasri thillana — each is endowed with an inherent beauty when Vyjayantimala presents it. In her younger days, she was likened to a sculpture walking out of a temple to dance with impeccable footwork and enchanting abhinaya. She continues to elevate the audience to divine moments of rasa siddhi when she gives visual form to the Kamakshi Swarajati or Sri Rajarajeswari or the soulful Mangalam of the Thanjavur Quartet.

I am always a student: Vyjayantimala Bali
 

Her lecture-demonstrations are no less worthy of audience adulation. Her passion and understanding of poetry comes through in her theatrical performances, such as ‘Sangattamizh Maalai,’ ‘Azhagar Kuravanji,’ ‘Chandalikaa’ and many others. They were stunning displays of choreography, musical inputs, stage props and costume — complete with all aspects of theatre. Vyjayantimala revived her ‘Sangathamizh Malai’ with telling effect last year.

Vyjayanti’s musical skill blends beautifully with her dance. A senior disciple of the legendary D.K. Pattammal, she is a ‘dancer-musician,’ who establishes the inseparable link of music to dance. A well-trained Carnatic vocalist that she is, her singing of the rare Thayams and Prabandhams along with her two gurus — K.P. Kittappa Pillai on nattuvangam and K.P. Sivananandam on the veena — was one of a kind that this writer can recall, presented in the morning sessions of the Madras Music Academy in late 1960s.

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Most respected for being an artiste of the ‘Golden period of Natya and Sangita’ of the 1960s and 70s, Vyjayantimala has had the unique recognition of having performed at the Music Academy’s annual festival continuously for nearly three decades, occupying a prime position along with the other two greats of those times — T. Balasaraswati and Kamala Lakshman. In these annual performances of the Academy, amidst her busy film career, she took every care to prepare and present under the tutelage of Kittappa Pillai, some rare pieces from the repertoire of the Thanjavur Quartet. With Kittappa Pillai rendering his exquisite jatis and wielding the cymbals, her performances remain etched in memory.

Such was her commitment to traditional values and paddhati; she upheld both with dedication and gurubhakti.

“I owe a lot to Sri Kittappa Pillai, the legend among nattuvanars from the family of the Thanjavur Quartet, from whom I was fortunate to inherit a great heritage,” says Vyjayantimala. She has been uncompromising in maintaining high standards of the Thanjavur Natya tradition. She has not allowed anything alien to creep into her technique or performance.

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When asked to comment on the well-known statement of Mahakavi Kalidasa — “Prayoga Pradhaanam Khalu Natya Sastram” (the dance/drama treatise is methodology focussed) — Vyjayantimala says: “Yes, practice is more important than the text. Theory is helpful only to a certain extent. Especially for Bharatanatyam, which is a visual art form, I lay accent on practical presentation and aim to be a perfectionist.”

A long journey studded with accolades and achievements — how does she look at this saga? “Elevating one’s own self to the Ultimate bliss is the underlying note of all our artistic traditions. One should be able to watch the dancer with a calm mind. ‘Tear is in the eye of the beholder’ — this should be the essence of Soka Rasa depiction. Subtlety in abhinaya enhances the serenity of the performance. I am a purist and a firm believer in classicism.

“In my own way, I would like to stick to my artistic principles amidst varied things happening in the Bharatanatyam field. I always consider myself a student. Novelty for the sake of popularity is not my motto. The beauty and divinity of Bharatanatyam will keep me alive and all these years I have worked hard to bring forth the spirit of joy through my performances.”

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“Apart from her iconic Andal, Vyjayantimala has a penchant for Vaishnava themes, which she attributes to the ambience in which she grew up. She made it a point to present something special during the Margazhi Season for Bharat Kalachar. The affection she has for Mrs. YGP is well-known. In an interview to this supplement, she mentioned her DVD on Siriya Tirumadal with the tagline, ‘A devotion driven by love.’ “It’s the story of Thirumangai Azhwar, who through his unflinching devotion transforms himself into Parakala Nayaki, yearns for the love of the Lord and visits all the Divyadesams to earn it. It was a dual role I played and several religious savants, including the Jeeyar Swami, who watched it, were so moved,” she recalled.

Anantam… Aanandam

Actor, renowned dancer and former Member of Parliament Vyjayanthimala Bali

Actor, renowned dancer and former Member of Parliament Vyjayanthimala Bali  

The function, organised with the support of Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram and the Federation of City Sabhas, to celebrate the milestone will take place today, at the Narada Gana Sabha, 6 p.m.-8.30 p.m. M.A. Venkatakrishnan, former Head of the Department, Vaishnavism, University of Madras, will render Anugraha Bhashanam. Among those, who will felicitate Vyjayantimala Bali are Mrs. Y.G. Parthasarathy, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Aruna Sairam, V.Thangavelu, former Member-Secretary, Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram, Nalli Kuppusami Chetty, Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman and V.P. Dhananjayan. Concept and coordination: Nandini Ramani

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 2:10:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/i-am-always-a-student-says-vyjayantimala-bali/article25322052.ece

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