Creative Choreographer Dance

Radhika Shurajit finds a new niche for her art

Radhika Shurajit

Radhika Shurajit  

She has taken Bharatanatyam to the common man, through the visual medium

Radhika Shurajit, who has been conferred the ‘Nrithya Shiromani’ title this year by the Chennai Cultural Academy Trust, is a dancer, who is happy in her own space and performs what she believes in.

Awards are not new to Radhika. She was honoured with the ‘Acharya Choodamani’ title by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. She won the Best Dance Guru award from the Madras Music Academy and was chosen for the Kala Seva Bharathi title of Bharath Kalachar and the Honarary Citizen Award from the Oklohomo State University, the U.S.

The eldest of the Trio Sisters, she is one of the first and senior most disciples of the Dhananjayans. A performer, teacher, choreographer, media visualiser and television director, it is the last mentioned, which separates her from other dancers and choreographers. Her imagination and visualisation have contributed in no small way to the popularity of the film songs, which she has choreographed, representing the cultural diversity of Chennai.

Radhika is happy to look back on what turned the tide for her, when she started creating dance productions for the stage, television and movies.

“I hail from a middle-class family. The three of us (sisters) loved dance but my father, an airline pilot hardly had the resource or influence to make it happen for us. But we were so passionate that when Dhananjayan Sir started his school, after leaving Kalakshtra, we joined. We were among the first few students and he named us Trio Sisters,” recalls Radhika.

Life was very simple — the sisters underwent training, began to perform along with the Master but never thought of an arangetram, although they had done nearly100 performances. “We were lucky and privileged to be performing and travelling with the Dhananjayans. But Master felt an arangetram would give our art the much-needed dimension. Our debut performance was well received because of Master’s beautiful choreography. We made a fine picture on stage —the three of us, young with similar features and moving fluidly and gracefully. We were likened to the Travancore Sisters — Lalita, Padmini, Ragini. And from then on we performed at several places.”

Academics continued too. Radhika did her computer science and began to work as a programmer. But nor for long. “I gave it up to do full-time dancing. People thought I was crazy but I knew my heart lay in dance,” remembers Radhika, who assisted her gurus in training students. Her gurus travelled a lot and sometimes came back just a couple of days before a performance. “That was the trust they had in me,” says Radhika.

Representing the country

Radhika also became an empanelled artiste with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and represented the country at several international festivals. Somewhere along the way, she also started her dance school ‘Thrayee.’

One question always nagged Radhika — why is the audience small for a dance show and why are the young not interested? She is yet to find an answer. Says Radhika: “Even today we are dancing for a small section. And we can’t get fooled by a full auditorium, especially when it is a big production. Because it will be filled with friends and relatives of the participating dancers. Where does this leave the classical form?”

That was when Radhika decided to use cinema songs to draw audiences. “Actually, my teacher had already done that. By making us learn folk dances, which we performed on several occasions. Also, Dhananjayan Sir was the first to do corporate shows, where a lay audience learnt to appreciate dance. I felt it was my duty to take it further — to the common man by presenting it in a way he understood. And film music was something they would understand,’’ she elaborates. According to Radhika, a film song is just as challenging as a padam or a javali. “I chose popular numbers with classical flavour. It is not easy to do classical choreography for film numbers.” The show based on Kannadsan’s songs got a lot of appreciation and a full house. Composer M.S. Viswanathan complimented her on coming up with a beautiful blend of song and dance.

Of course, the reaction was mixed. “Here I was, a Bharatanatyam dancer, exploring a popular medium. How do you aim to be different from the hundreds who are dancing to film music? I was dejected but when my mother asked me if I was convinced about what I was doing, I realised that this was something I really loved doing and it would give me creative satisfaction,” says Radhika.

She has done tributes to M.S. Amma, MLV, Balamuralikrishna and productions based on social issues, including environment.

‘Thaka Dhimi Tha,’ the show she conceivedand directed for Jaya TV, showcased her as an innovative artiste. It was the first of its kind and crossed 500 episodes, winning the National RAPA Award as the best Television Dance show in India.

“The television medium is different. I had no formal training in it; I learnt by watching cinematographers, directors at work. I learnt to look through the lens and interpret what I saw. At that time, dance shows on TV were rather pathetic and relegated to a late night slot. Thanks to Jaya TV and Amma (the late Jayalalithaa), who was keen to introduce a classical element, I got a good slot on Sunday mornings.”

The show gave an opportunity to many up-and-coming dancers. Legends such as Padma Subrahmanyam, Chitra Visweswaran and Sudharani Raghupati were featured as guests. They gave their expert opinion. I included a film song to which participants had to dance. This gave the show an edge.”

Radhika got got many accolades but the one she cherishes the most was given by her Master at the 400th celebration of the show at Narada Gana Sabha. “He said, ‘I have the pleasure of being Radhika’s guru. My eyes brimmed with tears.”

Radhika has choreographed songs, which have gone on to win national awards. The list of composers she has worked with includes Ilaiyaraja and A. R. Rehman.

What about the future? “Each artiste has his/her own journey. My programmes are synonymous with good dancing. I would like to do some big and grand productions. I have ideas, but finance is the main constraint. My dream is to make a film on dance — commercial or documentary. I love teaching. I do workshops. It is a matter of growing, maturing. What you did at 30, gains more intensity and hue at 50,” says Radhika.

Radhika suggests that everyone learn dance. “Whether or not one performs. The benefits are many. It makes one a better person,” she concludes.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 9:30:26 PM |

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