In a wonderful place


In Thalasherry, where Vineeth Radhakrishnan was born, the air was already magnetic with the aura of the famous Travancore sister Padmini. She was his valiamma (Vineeth’s father’s brother’s wife). While children his age grew up listening to stories of kings and queens, Vineeth grew up listening to magical tales of his actress aunt. He had heard about his uncle’s fairy tale wedding with Padmini, and how people would wait just to get a glimpse of her whenever she visited their ancestral home.

Naturally, Vineeth grew up enchanted with his aunt long before he actually met her. When he finally did, his fascination was immeasurable. Sitting in the verandah of their home, he would quiz her about her films and she would patiently answer him.

During his uncle’s wedding in Bangalore, Ragini’s daughter Mahalakshmi sang and Vineeth found himself being playfully nudged forward to dance. Vineeth was four-and-half then. That was his initiation into dance. On the advice of his aunt, his family decided to get him formally trained in dance.

Around this time, several gurus visited their hometown for monthly performances. Among them was Kathakali asan Guru Chemancherry Kunjuraman Nair. Vineeth was sent to him for training. Sadly, the lessons came to an abrupt end after two years when Vineeth was sent to boarding school in Ooty. However, his passion for dance was fuelled by his dance teacher in school, Anna Choudhary. This too stopped when he left boarding school during his 6 Standard, to return to Kerala. Vineeth’s parents, the late advocate K.T. Radhakrishnan and Dr. P.K. Shantakumari (a practising gynaecologist) insisted on him getting formal education, but they did not prevent him from learning dance. He began his training in Bharata Nrityam under Guru Kalamandalam Saraswathy (Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam’s student) who lived in Kozhikode. Vineeth found her to be exacting, committed and disciplined. When Malayalam writer, M.T. Vasudevan Nair (Kalamandalam Saraswathy’s husband) offered him a film role, another door opened for Vineeth that would lead him on a new adventure. It was, however, MT’s and Hariharan’s next movie, ‘Nakhakshathangal’, that saw him courting fame. Over the years, he worked with many sensitive directors, while straddling his two loves -- dance and cinema -- with equal ease. His undergraduate degree brought Vineeth to Chennai. He started learning Kuchipudi from Guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam and also kept in touch with his guru Saraswathy. She suggested that he meets Padma Subrahmanyam. Providence also played a role here when Padmini invited him to join her troupe, which was touring the United States. As chance would have it, Padma was in New York for “Ramaya Thubyam Namah.” Padmini took Vineeth to watch the performance.

Vineeth says, “I had never seen anything quite like this before. I stood transfixed as I watched Paddu akka. I can still recall every movement, frame by frame.” Backstage, when Padma realised that Padmini’s nephew was Saraswathy’s student, she exclaimed, “ Appo nee ennodu paeran mari (‘You are like a grandson to me’).” By 1992, Vineeth had completed his graduation, but got busy with films. Actor Sukumari took Vineeth one day to meet Padma. The veteran dancer expressed her desire to watch him dance. And she was impressed. Thus began his classical journey with Padma akka. Vineeth says cinema helped him be more explicit while emoting on stage. His thirst for knowledge continued and he completed his Masters in Bharatanatyam from Sastra University. Vineeth’s guru bhakti is evident when you hear him talk about Padma. Recalling the time when Padma accompanied her students to temples to study the Karana sculptures, Vineeth says “It was amazing to watch her demonstrate the various karanas. As if the sculptures had come alive!”

Being a male dancer, he understands that it is not always possible to imitate the guru. So he learnt to internalise the emotions. Padma, on her part, taught him stances that were purely masculine and graceful.

This young actor-dancer has two Kerala State Critic awards to his credit in addition to the Kalaimamani Award and the Kalaprathiba gold medal from Kerala.

Today, Vineeth performs not only Margam but also semi-classical and film shows. One cannot deny the influence his classical dance has over his other styles. He says, “I maintain the classical idiom in my shows, and incorporate fusion in the musical segment.” If the glitz of cinema woos him, the tranquillity of Bharata Nrithyam keeps him rooted. Yes, he has found a happy balance between the two.

‘My aunt Padmini’

Vineeth’s bonding with his aunt Padmini is something he cherishes. Her life and her stories have had a deep impact on him in later years.

He says, “She was someone who respected time a lot. She would always be ready 15 minutes before a shoot or an interview. She never kept anyone waiting. So conscious was she of the camera that she would ‘touch up’ her face even for a casual photograph taken at home. If her ‘make-up’ session was for a 7 a.m. call sheet, she’d be up at 3 a.m.! She had dance shows almost every evening, and while shooting, her friends Sukumari and yesteryear Malayalam actor Ambika, would arrive on her sets to teach her the steps between shots, much to the amusement of her co-stars! She kept abreast of the current trends by watching a film every night. It’s thanks to her that I watched Uday Shankar’s 'Kalpana'.”

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 6:26:24 PM |

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