Parshwanath Upadhye’s performance was high on energy and theatrics

Parshwanath Upadhye’s interpretation of the sahitya meaning worked well only in parts

Published - March 09, 2023 06:31 pm IST

Parshwanath  Upadhye performing at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha.

Parshwanath Upadhye performing at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. | Photo Credit: RAGU R

Bharatanatyam dancer Parshwanath Upadhye has carved a niche for himself. He has an excellent sense of timing and is extremely agile. Moreover, he is a consummate dramatist who leaves no stone unturned to add some spice to his classical performance.

One, however, may agree and disagree with his methods. He presented the composition (‘Ninaindodi vanden’, ragamalika, talamalika, K. Ponniah Pillai), at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, in an unbroken flow, devoid of markers, such as arudis for theermanams and thattu-mettu sequences. This underlined his timing and focus and provided a stunning ‘ah’ moment. The thattu mettu finished, and in the next beat the jathi began. When that ended, the song rendition began on the next beat. Without a repetitive pallavi or charanam, the piece had the added complication of seven talas and ragas.

He opened with ‘Sri chamundeshwari palayamam’ (Bilahari, Adi, Mysore Vasudevachar), which was impressive for its melody and Parshwanath’s deep araimandi and fleet-footedness.

Taking liberties with sahithya meanings, even if it reflected similar emotions is a definite no-no. In the saptatalaragamalika piece that spoke of a nayika yearning for Shiva’s attention, Parshwanath equated her yearning to Ravana’s as a Shiva bhakta.

He filled the sahitya with his thoughts — ‘I’m thinking of you; I go to the forest, I search here and there. I identify the mountain where you are; (Smiling) You will come with me and goddess Parvathi will get angry.’ And again in ‘Manathil..’, ‘Shiva is meditating, I will do arathi, ring the bell, play the drums and the conch loudly; he is not heeding any of this.’ This is a novel way, quite theatrical, and fairly impactful, though it could become too cluttered without a sthayi to deepen the emotion.

Parshwanath’s footwork was soft, the overused heels not allowing for hard stamping. This is true of most busy dancers. Parshwanath made up for it with his agility and flexibility — his continuous nattadavu lunges were proof of this.

The structure of the composition was different — it’s not a varnam, nor a keerthanam, just seven sections of swara, sahitya and swara passages. The name of the raga and tala feature in the sahitya as well. It’s a rare piece belonging to the Thanjavur Quartet family, written by Kittappa Pillai’s father. Parshwanath had inserted some rhythmic theermanams in between. Performed together with the swara passages, it was a lot of dancing.

Again the ‘Choodare’ padam (Sahana, Mishra Chapu, Kshetrayya) which is usually presented as women gossiping about a married woman going to meet Muvvagopala, uncaring of what others may say, was turned around. The protagonist is a jobless male, who eyes a woman and proposes to her; he does not heed her ‘No’ and is slapped for his advances. It was funny and well-caricatured, though quite far away from the original context. Parshwanath had taken advantage of the literal meaning, while omitting the last charanam that mentions Muvva Gopala.

Parshwanath signed off with a peppy Kuntalavarali thillana (Adi, M. Balamuralikrishna). His high energy and theatrics can charm the sternest of critics.

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