Dance

New take on Tagore

Madhuboni and Manoj   | Photo Credit: email

Every year Bengal gets deluged by Rabindranath Tagore's works during “Kobi-pokkho” (Kavi-paksha) around his birthday (May 8). This year being his 150th birth anniversary and the centenary year of his Nobel Prize winning “Gitanjali”, the feverish spell has scaled a new pinnacle. Also, the post-copyright freedom has produced some amazingly reinvented results.

Bharatanatyam danseuse Madhubani Chatterjee stands tall amongst these innovative artistes. Her “Annya Aami” (Me: A different self) — emerged out of his over-exposed dance-drama Chitrangada — and “Ranga-Nayaker Janyo” (For my lively soul-mate) based on Tagore's letters to his Notun Bouthan, who was his inspiration, his muse — proved that to reinterpret Tagore's immortal works with superb sensitivity has been her obsession that is further fuelled by her husband Manoj Murali Nair, a successful Rabindra Sangeet exponent.

This year Madhubani came with “Raktakarabi” (Red Oleanders) — originally an allegorical play based on the complex human psyche. But when Jahnavi Centre for Performing Arts presented it at GD Birla Sabhagar recently, the concept, characterisations, choreography and direction by Madhubani transformed it into a piece of dance-theatre that incorporated Bharatanatyam, Kathakali and Creative Dance movements along with mime, puppet, mask, dialogues and music.

“Why?” Madhubani chirped in her high-pitched, sing-song voice, “Frankly I did begin following the original format four years back; but I always felt that the works of Tagore grow on you. The universality of Tagore becomes apparent in the light of your own interpretation rooted on life's experiences. He always leaves you with that space. ‘Raktakarabi' is one of Tagore's most contemporary works. Its take on social issues forced me to think. Gradually the format began to take a different shape, primarily because being a dancer I could express better through dance. The rest fell into place according to the need to portray this abstract theme rife with complexities of the human mind.”

Remarkable personification

She herself portrayed Nandini while her reading between the lines resulted in the majestic and overpowering presence of Raja on stage, and it was one of the most remarkable personifications of an abstract thing. How did this materialise?

“In Tagore's original, Raja was a mere voice but for me he became real when I began to understand the suffocating helplessness of ‘Rajas around us, caught in their own web of power, ambition and greed. Also pitted against Nandini's naïve persona — brimming with purity, happiness and zest for life, Raja, the king of darkness, could draw out the stark contrast between light and dark shades of human nature. Since Manoj was initiated into Kathakali by his father Guru Kalamandalam Muralidharan Nair, I could visualise him in this role. He worked really hard under his father's guidance to learn the finer nuances of Kathakali's facial expressions to essay this complex role truthfully. He also composed music for this production.”

But how could this Santiniketan-bred Tagore fan compose such trendy background score? Manoj clarified, “Since the issues are still relevant, one needs to interpret them in today's context with modern sounds. The background score for toiling labourers and machinery is western; only to effectively emphasise the dramatic elements of suspense and shackled slavery. The un-tampered songs with contemporary orchestration expressed new meaning and character. I used soft and soothing flute for Nandini and bold, deep violin for Raja. Incidentally, we recorded the songs and dialogues in our own voices. So if I stepped in as a dancer, Madhubani emerged as a singer!”

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 7:25:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/New-take-on-Tagore/article16137683.ece

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