Friday Review

It doesn’t come on a platter

POPULARISING THE FORM Manju Barggavee  

The star pupil with an unalloyed dance style of the legendary Kuchipudi Guru Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam, acclaimed Kuchipudi dancer and Telugu actress Manju Barggavee expresses her deep concern for the present status of the dance form. She shot to fame with the Telugu blockbuster “Sankarabharanam” and blended her acting career with her ‘first and last love’- dance. Her present mission of defining and refining Kuchipudi gained recognition but she has ambitious plans to document and spread the dance form widely.

Edited excerpts from an interview.

What disturbs you about the present status of Kuchipudi?

Today the standard of Kuchipudi is suffering. I don’t know whether to blame the teachers or the students. Every art form is divine and you cannot make it commercial. If it does, it gets diverted and diluted. In the case of Kuchipudi especially, you have to follow the basic norms of “Suashtavam”. Kuchipudi does not need a total “Aramandi” but at least the knees have to be turned out. When I see dances like the Kathak and Odissi I find the hands do not have to be stiff. Whereas in Kuchipudi, like Bharatanatyam, the hands have to be positioned in such a way that they fall in line and for any movement there is a particular line that has to be followed. Today, in many cases, the lines are not there. Therefore it is not good dancing. Today’s teachers have to focus on these lines and mudras. Most of the dance expressions come through the mudras which the audience follow. It is the stiffness of the fingers and the perfection of the alignment that are important. These are not there among the present-day students. If there is one class per week, by the time they come back, they would have forgotten what they had learnt, particularly in a class of 100 students, as the teacher would not be knowing what they are doing. This is true for all classical forms. I take only ten at a time and replace if one leaves.

How did Kuchipudi come about?

Kuchipudi is an alignment of Odissi, Bharatanatyam and Kathak. We have the angles and postures of Bharatanatyam, the grace of Odissi and the footwork of Kathak. All this put together makes Kuchipudi dance come alive. So when you have to align everything you have to pay a lot of attention to your feet, your hands and your body as well because when you do movements the body automatically goes with the hand which does not happen with Bharatanatyam. When you move the hand, only the hand moves, the body doesn’t move. Like in Odissi, the body moves with the hands. That’s how I am comparing. Then there is a total body language connected with the facial expression in Kuchipudi. Like they say ‘where the hands go, the eyes have to follow. When the eye follows then expression follows’ That is very mandatory in Kuchipudi.

Isn’t it true mostly for all dances?

No, it is not. In Kathak when they do only the footwork, the head moves but the body doesn’t move. It is also the case in Odissi and Bharatanatyam to a certain extent but here it’s all together. That’s why I call it a very tough style because you have to be really 100 per cent focussed. There are some really dedicated gurus but the thing is that the right guru must find the right student. The biggest issue these days is to sustain the interests of students for a long period. If you present on stage even for a short programme, they think they have become dancers, which is not the right attitude. Also, students who do their arangetrams are sometimes deprived of performances. So there should be some platform everywhere so that those interested get a chance to perform. Slowly such organisations are coming up and are trying to reach out to the younger generation but then what I feel is that it is not sufficient when each one is given just 10-15 minutes time for a performance. For a dancer, it takes a certain amount of time to warm up on stage and the performance should be at least for an hour. We used to have a two-hour performance. Even now we have a two-hour solo performance. Now-a-days mostly the audience does not have the patience to watch one dancer for such a long time and the two-hour concept of dancing is very rare.

Please talk about your project of standardising Kuchipudi.

In Andhra Pradesh for any Government function, it is mandatory to have a Kuchipudi performance. Kuchipudi training is compulsory for boys and girls between 5th-and 8th standard in all Government schools. We have requested the Government that they have to have a uniform training programme and syllabus for the teachers. Kuchipudi syllabus today has become diversified in the sense that it has been divided. Students learning from Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam are different from those from Kuchipudi Bhagavathas and Uma Rama Rao. We are planning to put all methods together into one common consolidated form to obtain an authentic style. I requested the Government and we have formed a committee to select the teachers who would impart proper training. This way at least several people armed with Master’s degree in Kuchipudi who are jobless would have an opportunity to be employed as dance teachers.

Aren’t you planning anything for yourself ?

I am not in the mainstream and don’t publicise myself. I act in films when I am comfortable with the roles. I am documenting all the steps and all the jatis that I have performed, the theoretical parts of how the mandalas, charis and bramaras are represented in Kuchipudi.

I am actually planning to bring up a Kuchipudi Research Centre and a Kuchipudi University- with modern facilities, totally by myself in Bangalore. Right now I am doing a 100-minute production, “Karnataka Parampara”. I am taking the culture of Karnataka - its dance, music, folk art and literature from may be 2,000-3,000 years back and integrating it with light and sound. Different dance forms will be used.

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