Between genius and mediocrity

One maestro to another: Pandit Birju Maharaj. Photo: R. Ragu  

This has been a week of nostalgia and sadness when the music of legendary musicians who have passed us by ensures that in their art they will live on forever. At the India International Centre (IIC) auditorium, after watching a very moving film by a daughter paying tribute to a great mother who went on to become the first woman to master the sarod, the late Sharan Rani Mathur, the audience was lost in the mesmerising melodic strains of the sarod and the humility of the persona behind the creativity. Bringing down the curtain on an evocative evening, after Sharan Rani’s disciple played on the sarod, came a delectable homage through bhav batana by none other than Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj. Bringing home the togetherness of sangeet and dance, Birju Maharaj’s singing, along with interpretative genius, showed how the smallest gesture or glance can say so much, and how the gestures at fractional points between tala beats give a punctuating thrust to communication. The subtleties of the gopi saying “Mohe chedo na nandke sunahuoon chail” or trying to extricate her hands from the waylaying Krishna, or throwing mingled annoyed and loving glances at the broken bangles… everything was just a suggestive hint, and all done seated in the same place. It is this ability which the art form seems to have lost sight of in running after exaggerated virtuosity. And after a fleeting glimpse of “Kaun gali gayo Shyam”, the signature thumri of Maharaj’s guru Shambhu Maharaj, Birju Maharaj gave an example of his own poetic creations.

The little scrap of wood, the flute that Krishna holds to his lips, becomes a prized entity that makes Radha so jealous that she snatches away the bansi. Usha’s pangs about her dreams of Aniruddha making love to her assuaged somewhat by Chitralekha’s drawing of her dream lover and promise to search for and fetch him, and poetry punning on the word ‘Hari’ were all recited one after the other, showing the poetic imagination of the artiste, a poetic mind being the first requirement of a great dancer.

Rama Natakam

At Kamani, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations presented “Rama Natakam” by the Dhananjayans — Arunachala Kavirayar’s composition with Turaiyoor Rajagopala Sharma’s musical inputs produced in the early ’90s by the Dhananjayans. The idea of narrating the story without aharya (costumes) representing various characters of the Ramayana had an openness which made for a racy first scene with the homage “Yen pallikkondeer ayya Sri Ranganatha” in raga Mohanam. The invocatory query in mingled emotive tones is addressed to the Lord, asking him if the various manifestations he undertook to destroy evil made him so tired that he had to take on a reclining posture as Vishnu lying in the ananta-shayana posture on the ocean. With a well-trained group of disciples, the first part went on at a racy clip with each dancer getting fleeting solo space and the group performing in fine sync, till the “Kooni vandaale” in Begada. But thereafter, the production became unbalanced with an unnecessarily lengthened Kooni-Kaikeyi-Dasaratha scene. Not for a moment taking away from the excellence of Shanta Dhananjayan as Kaikeyi, Tulsi Badrinath as Manthara and Dhananjayan as Dasaratha, all with proven interpretative ability, one still could not explain the over-stretched scene with plenty of instrumental interludes (albeit an excellent violinist Ishwar Ramakrishnan, and mridangam flourishes by Shivprasad), making the story more about Kaikeyi and Dasaratha, with Rama and Sita becoming incidental. Yes, Kaikeyi’s change of mind, thanks to her maid, and what followed are what make the Ramayana. But even so the narrative has to have a sense of proportion with the accent being on the main hero. The ragamalika score had a host of modes like Todi, Natakuranji, Vasanta, Atana and others — and a very moving Shivaranjani part and a finale of nritta set to solfa syllabic passages in Surati. Sri Rajesh sang with involvement.

What has happened to a person like Sutapa Talukdar who learnt from the great Kelucharan Mohapatra himself? Watching a few minutes — one could not take any more of this fare — of the dance drama based on the myth of Daksha Yagna and Uma being born as Parvati in her next manifestation, which she presented with her group from Kolkata at Azad Bhavan for ICCR’s Friday programmes, was so disappointing that one wondered what kind of a costume drama the dancer had conceived. Shiva dancing in frenzy, after Uma throws herself into the sacrificial fire of Daksha’s Yagna, was a tepid leaping around, which robbed the deity of all dignity. As for the “Aigiri Nandini” hymn, what was done with an over-decorated headgear for Parvati was devoid of the majesty associated with these hymns. What with the recorded voice commentary, to see a once reputed solo Odissi dancer in this kind of entertainment-oriented indulgence was very sad, to say the least. This is not the way Odissi should evolve.

Another gem bids adieu

Lalgudi Jayaraman’s leaving the scene, so soon after late violinist M.S. Gopalakrishnan, not only leaves a never-to-be-filled void in music but also tolls an immeasurable loss to the world of classical dance. A musician par excellence, here was a genius whose compositions were performed in Bharatanatyam with as much joy and gusto as in vocal recitals. His suite of tillanas became a much loved part of the repertoire for Bharatanatyam concerts. One has lost count of the number of times one has seen his varnams, particularly the Charukesi “Innum en manam ariyaadavarpol”, performed by veteran artistes. The famous production “Jai Jai Devi”, choreographed to his unforgettable music, toured several countries, and that it was his music that inspired the best in the choreographer and dancers was never disputed. Ever ready to educate, help and work with Bharatanatyam performers, here was a legend who never held back with any false sense of pride. Says artiste Chitra Visweswaran, “The amount both my husband and I learnt from this wonderful artiste-cum-human being can never be measured.” The dulcet music he could produce on his instrument is, alas, no more, but the sound in taped versions will keep on enriching music lovers. And he trained many disciples who carry his tradition, above all his own children, the accomplished Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, who will keep the flag of this parampara flying high.

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 1:47:08 AM |

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