Friday Review

Passion, unabated

Veteran Kuchipudi artist Vedantam Radhesyam maybe touching 60 but you can’t tell if you go by his energetic enthusiasm, both on and off stage. A natural, he can dance, sing, act and perform the nattuvangam all at once. He has been selected recently for the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.

A descendant of one of the original 14 Brahmin families associated with Siddhendhra Yogi, the creator of the Kuchipudi Brahmana Mela, guru Radhesyam is undoubtedly blue-blooded. In addition, he carries a child-like readiness to sing or dance, even if the audience numbers just one. A three-day ‘Natya Rasaprabandha,’ a Kuchipudi theatre festival, organised by Sri Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha, Subodha Fine Arts and Saila Sudha Dance Academy brought guru Radhesyam, in-charge principal, Sri Siddhendra Kalakshetra Pranganam, Telugu University, to Chennai. Impeccably dressed in an off-white silk kurta, dhoti and a zari-bordered angavastram, he waits patiently for the interview to begin.

We start with the antiquity of the dance dramas selected for the festival; ; ‘Parvathi Parinayam’ (1950s - script and songs by Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry and D.S.V. Sastry), ‘Bhama Kalapam’ (13th century - Siddhendra Yogi) and ‘Bhakta Prahlada’ (17th century - Vedala Thirunarayanacharyulu, Ramanujacharyulu with music and visualisation by P.V.G. Krishna Sharma, Vedanta Satyanarayana Sharma), their approximate performance duration ranged from four and a half hours to three days.

Guru Radhesyam is frank. He admits that barring ‘Bhama Kalapam’ and ‘Golla Kalapam,’ which are considered sacred, the other ‘traditional’ presentations have been ‘remodelled’ to suit new audiences. Even the pure dance portions in ‘Bhama..’ are later add-ons.

Ask him about his style of Kuchipudi and he is nonchalant, although he has studied under a galaxy of stars such as Vedantam Parvateesam, Vempati Pedda Satyam, Vempati Chinna Satyam, Vedantam Satyanarayana Sharma, his father Vedantam Suryanarayana and P.V.G. Krishna Sarma, among others. He gesticulates to say that he takes the best from everyone, filling his quiver with arrows that can be used at will.

You can see that the performance art is spontaneous and straight from the heart. Rightfully, he wants no clutter, no imposition of style or label, to stem the flow. Although seated cross-legged, he jumps up to demonstrate at the slightest provocation. He has the dialogue, songs and dance steps of every production at his finger tips. Ask him about Satyabhama in ‘Bhama Kalapam,’ and suddenly the wiry, professorial persona turns into a slim, blushing heroine. “The Kalapam is the ‘original’ because the ‘stree’ is the same - she cannot bear separation. Satyabhama goes through the eight emotional states of a woman in love (Ashta Vidha Nayika). This play has only Natya Dharmi, stylised expressions.”

With relish, he breaks into ‘Madana..’ in Anandabhairavi raga, Adi tala, showing me the complexity of the time cycle that begins four beats after the song, and explains the lyrics - Satyabhama, who is agonised by Krishna’s absence feels victimised by Kama’s love darts- singing and acting all the time, with his disciple Himabindhu keeping tala and providing the English translations.

He goes on to explain the sub-text, “This is Krishna’s chitvilasa (leela). He tests Satyabhama because she is possessive about him. He wants to remove her pride and increase her devotion.”

He describes the Kuchipudi village in Krishna district where the art form was born. Many from the 14 families have moved out in search of better employment opportunities. “This group of dancers has been assembled from nearby Vijayawada and Hyderabad. When there are programmes, we come together to practise. There is no caste restriction anymore,” he says.

There is an imperceptible satisfaction that through his teaching and performing years, Guru Radhesyam has trained his sons, Vedantam Satyanarasimha Sastry and Vedantam Siddhendra Varaprasad, both brilliant dancers and musicians, to uphold the family tradition.

The veteran artist is happy to continue, but the car has arrived for his lunch engagement. He plays a sutradhar for ‘Bhakta Prahlada,’ scheduled for that evening, so time is of essence. With the same quiet courtesy, he bids me farewell.

Changing with the times

When one watches ‘traditional’ art forms, re-visiting the past is foremost on our minds. But V.A.K. Ranga Rao, music scholar and art critic, debunks the idea. “How can you re-create the past? Aharya has changed, costumes have moved from draped to tailored and the jewellery from wood to metal. Most importantly, the attitude has changed. A ‘Baby’ Kamala could perform a one-hour Swati Tirunal Dasavatara varnam and everyone would watch patiently; now the audience is looking at the clock, no matter who is dancing. You cannot dance for yourself or to please your guru, you have to think of the audience first. Art has to change.”

Guru reacts

About him being chosen for the Sangeet Natak Akademi Puraskar, Guru Radhesyam says, “I am very happy . It is the blessings of my gurus and parents. I am also indebted to our Government for honouring me. I am working on a new Yakshagana ‘Godavari Pushkara’ to be presented at the Godavari festival in July. I have done the script, music and dance for this. I’m looking forward to the presentation.”

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2020 6:40:21 AM |

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