Tribute Dance

The Satyabhama of Kuchipudi

It’s not often that a dancer becomes synonymous with certain roles. But Shobha Naidu’s artistic journey was defined by the role of Satyabhama, which she performed innumerable times at the insistence of audiences. Her stylish gait, those large expressive eyes, the beautiful smile... she owned the stage from the moment she stepped on it.

As an artiste, I am immensely beholden to her. She inspired me to make dance my calling. When in school, I happened to watch her in the role of Padmavathi in Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam's popular production, ‘Srinivasa Kalyanam’. I recall leaving the hall completely mesmerised. And by the time I reached home, I knew Kuchipudi was where my heart lay. I headed to Chennai to train under the inimitable Guru Vempati.

The Satyabhama of Kuchipudi

Like guru, like sishya

Shobha Naidu was not only among the guru’s foremost disciples, but the one who amazingly translated his thoughts and ideas through her dance. She would bring alive the nuances in his choreographic works in her distinct way. I cannot forget her brilliant portrayal of Chandalika. She tugged at our heartstrings with her abhinaya in ‘Enduku Naki Shapamaya’. She used to recount how, when master was choreographing ‘Oyi Dinajanavana’ for her, he remarked in anger one day that she was unfit to dance. This pushed her to practise relentlessly till he finally nodded in appreciation. They made a great guru-sishya combination.

Shobha’s appeal cut across dance styles, and she was able to popularise Kuchipudi around the world. What set her apart as a dancer was also her versatility; she could play any role with ease, including male roles.

A warm and humble person off stage, she would transform into a striking performer once she donned the costume and put on the make-up.

In the past few years, Shobha had dedicated herself to grooming young enthusiasts in the idiom. A loving and generous guru, she would guide them in every possible way. Whenever I invited her to Deepanjali, my dance school, she would always turn up and wholeheartedly appreciate something she liked. At the same time, she would also point out all the flaws in the most polite manner. The moment I heard of her demise, I scrolled though the complimentary messages she sent me after watching my tribute video to Covid workers.

A few years ago, while preparing for a Kuchipudi festival themed on Annamacharya kritis, when I came to know she would be performing her favourite piece, ‘Paluku Tenela Talli’, I called her up to request if I could do it instead. She immediately agreed. ‘I will do ‘Okapari Kokapari,’’ she said. For me, each time I have watched Shobha perform ‘Paluku Tenela Talli’, it has taken me closer to my art.

In the shifting cultural dynamics of today, she held on to her traditional moorings, bringing alive age-old padams and javalis. If we look at the trajectory of her work, both as a soloist and a choreographer, we will understand what gave her the strength to rule the world of Kuchipudi till her last breath. The rhythm of her gajjalu (bells) will continue to echo.

Deepika Reddy

Deepika Reddy  

The author is a well-known Kuchipudi dancer based in Hyderabad.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 2:54:52 PM |

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