Danseuse-actor Shobana needs no introduction. Her body of work is as diverse as her roles in the 230-odd films that she has acted in, predominantly in Malayalam, besides Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and English. Winner of two National Film Awards and several others, her heart, however, lies in taking the traditions of Bharatanatyam forward. Trained under exponents Chitra Visweswaran and Padma Subrahmanyam, she is an independent performer and choreographer and runs a dance school Kalarpana in Chennai.
Shobana was in town recently for a performance as part of HCL Concerts, Kala Sangam, aimed at promoting Indian classical performing arts. She took centrestage in the packed Lakshmi Sundaram Hall and enthralled the audience with her power-packed performance based on the ever-evolving mythology of Siva, Durga, Kali and the rasleelas of Krishna.
Excited about her return to the big screen after seven years — her Malayalam flick Varane Avashyamunde releases today — she chats with Metroplus before her performance:
Tell us something about your Malayalam movie Varane Avashyamunde that is releasing today?
(Smiles) It is better people go and watch the movie. I am acting after a long gap and am in a mother’s role. You will see me going through the gamut of emotions of every mother in every home. The film is written and directed by Anoop Sathyan and stars Suresh Gopi, Dulquer Salmaan and Kalyani Priyadarshan. I am looking forward to its successful run.
What is the difference between Shobana the dancer and Shobana the actor?
I act in films depending on the offers. I face the camera as and when I am shooting. But dance, I rigorously practice everyday. There is no let up ever.
Do you find any dilution of classical elements in present day Bharatanatyam?
What my teacher teaches me today is what she learnt from her teacher. But as generations move, people also change. Every field has seen a change. I will not be surprised if some nuances of Bharatanatyam change too. It is bound to happen given its long history. But as long as a dancer properly follows the basics of the dance form, the set of eight or ten adavus, padams and javalis, one should not really worry.
Even dance costumes are getting more gorgeous.
With changes happening all around, we cannot avoid many things. But as long as classical arts performers adhere to the basic tenets and traditions, it is fine.
Is Arangetram necessary given the cost involved these days?
It is not an absolute necessity. But it is done as a social thing to make known to the community. One need not make it an expensive affair either, though I know these functions are now held like major celebrations followed by a feast. Students mostly want to honour their teachers. What happens these days is the students who successfully go out to perform actually earn more than their teachers.
Is guru necessary after some years of experience?
Not really, it is up to each student. No matter how many years you have been dancing, I feel a guru is always needed for motivation and inspiration. For most Bharatanatyam exponents today, Dr Padma Subrahmanyam is the manaseeka guru
Tell us about the new generation of students whom you teach.
They are a fantastic lot, eager to learn and improvise. We only have to guide them to the right direction. If the teacher is good, they learn good. Because it is not like teaching mathematics, one formula for all. Students of Bharatanatyam or any other dance form, for that matter, are artistes first. A teacher has to understand the ability and capability of his or her student, their sentiments and varying levels of sensitivity to be able to bring out the best.
Why aren’t there many male Bharatanatyam dancers/ students?
There are definitely more male performers today than before. But an entire generation has to change to bring in that kind of parity. Even if the change is slow, I am sure in some more time, female teachers will be teaching this dance form to many more male students.
Shobana ….. yesterday, today and tomorrow ….how would you describe yourself?
Yesterday, is out there in the public domain. Today, I am here. Tomorrow, God only knows. My 50th birthday falls next month (March 17) and I want to have a concert.