Friday Review

Pravaha, the journey continues

Sharmila Mukerjee as Sookshma and her group.

Sharmila Mukerjee as Sookshma and her group.  

Well choreographed Odissi ballet 'Sookshma' drew parallels between nature and womanhood.

In memory of her guru, Kelucharan Mohapatra, Bengaluru-based senior Odissi dancer Sharmila Mukerjee, founder-director of the 13-year-old Sanjali Centre for Odissi, has been hosting an annual Odissi show in the city that has been aptly titled Pravaha (continuity). It’s recent tenth edition staged Sookshma, a touching Odissi dance ballet adapted from the immensely popular Kannada folktale ‘A Flowering Tree’ by eminent writer A.K.Ramanujan.

Already adapted to the celluloid as Cheluvi by Girish Karnad Cheluviand to stage by John Adam’s two-act opera, the poignant plot tells the tale of an innocent village girl Chenni who loves flowers passionately. Sookshma, an ethereal spirit, is so moved by the little girl’s love for nature because of which she, along with her two sisters, enters the forest every day to pick and play with flowers. The omnipresent spirit bestows a boon on the girl that enables her to transform into a flowering tree and back into a human when two pots of water are poured on her. However, the flowers are to be picked up gently and secretly, the girl is told.

The girl shares the secret with her sisters and together they enter the forest every night where the two sisters pour two pots of water on Chenni who becomes a beautiful tree of fragrant flowers. The sisters pluck the flowers and sell in the village earning the family a livelihood. In course of time, she marries at the behest of her husband, who loves the fragrance of flowers, the girl transforms herself into the flowering tree regularly. Her husband’s sister too discovers the amazing act and persuades Chenni to be the flowering tree during the day time inside the forest. Chenni obliges, but to her ill-luck, woodcutters reach there as per the zamindar’s order to collect logs by felling trees. Ignorant of the human-transformed mysterious-tree, they axe a branch of the flowering tree. The sister-in-law and Chenni’s husband try to bring Chenni back to her human form. She regains her human form but in a miserable, mutilated condition.

This story has been brilliantly adapted to dance by choreographer-director Sharmila Mukerjee who has also essayed the role of Sookshma in the ballet. Visualised on scholar Krishnaraj Bhatt’s script in Sanskrit, the strength and beauty of the choreography lies in its art of minimalism. The 70-minute long production convincingly conveyed through articulately crafted choreography and sensibly composed music by Kolkata-based veteran vocalist Debasis Sarkar. Sharmila succeeded in retaining the flavor of Odissi while depicting the cultural ethos of South India.

Music has brought out magical effects to this production. With less lyrics the instrumental music served as the prime interpreter of the moods and sentiments in the narrative, with the play of mardal, sitar, sarod, flute and violin. Mardal (by the young Ekalavya Muduli) explored the best in the ballet. Be it the scene when the sisters walked through the forest in darkness to fetch water or when the wood-cutters stormed the forest, the mardal beats told it all brilliantly. Similarly, when Chenni had a dialogue with her sister-in-law, it was rather a conversation between the sitar and the sarod.

Sanjali’s lead dancer Abhayalakshmi as Chenni proved her potential as an amazing dancer of grace and expressions. shringara karunya ,She simply excelled in execution of all the rasas with effortless ease.

Set designer Sridhar Murthy and light designer Jose Koshy transformed the stage into a dense forest or an idyllic village Sookshma. Like the music, the light often convincingly conveyed the moods and sequences.

The choreographer took the artistic liberty of giving a tragic end to the tale unlike its original happy ending as she wished to arouse a sense of pathos through parallels between the nature and womanhood both are forgiving and enduring and hence must be cared for and respected.

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 11:27:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/pravaha-the-journey-continues/article8556304.ece

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