MUSIC & DANCE Friday Review

Laid-back manner

Zakir Hussain presents Divyam. Photo: M. Vedhan   | Photo Credit: M_VEDHAN

As a Bharatanatyam dancer, one would not rate Zakir Hussain very high. His nritta has a lazy undertone, where you can see he is not pushing for maximum exertion. His agility has improved but is nullified by the scant respect he gives for the half-sit stance or araimandi that is so central to Bharatanatyam. He communicates well, but the mime borders on a filmy style, to the expected stylised abhinaya.

Zakir’s costume requires attention. Even accounting for differences in taste and the need to respect diversity, he continues to defy logic, adding more glitter and colour at will. If Bharatanatyam is a suggestive art, this attitude of ‘pile on the glitter and colours and leave nothing to imagination’ certainly contradicts the understanding of the art form.

Yet he has carved a niche for himself, whether amongst Bharatanatyam enthusiasts or rasikas who are drawn to his themes, is besides the point. Having studied devotional literature, particularly Vaishnavism and the Pancharatra Agama Shastras, he presents programmes based on them. He has evolved a format -- an unbroken hour or so of ragamalika, talamalika piece, with alternating jathis and sahitya. He has christened this style of presentation ‘Vaishnava Bharatham.’

The music forms the bedrock. As the conch is blown frequently to the accompaniment of clanging temple bells, the devout cannot but be drawn into a web of devotional feelings. The stories of the gods that accompany the auspicious sounds enhance the fervour. The cleverness is not really in the dance, but in the positioning and presentation.

Zakir’s latest presentation, ‘Divyam,’ dealt with ‘Divya Azhagar,’ the divinely handsome Rama.

The presentation included mythology and incidents from recorded history about Rama, his life and his miracles; it was written in lucid Tamil by T. V. actor and Harikatha artist Revathy Sankkaran and tuned by vocalist Gomathi Nayagam.

The programme commenced with a Gambhira Nattai pushpanjali (tisra gati Aadi) and the benedictory verse from Kamban’s Ramavataram, ‘Ulagam Yaavaiyum.’ High-pitched chanting of the Rama mantra ‘Sri Rama Rama Rameti..’ ushered in the main piece, ‘Devadi Devan Divya Sri Raman’ (Khambodi, Adi).

Already one could see a singing format emerging. The line is sung softly first, without accompaniments, then a little faster, still without accompaniments, and finally reaching the regular madhyama kala with the mridangam (Ganesh), nattuvangam (Archana) and flute (Nataraj) in full flow. Gomathi’s baritone voice reverberated tunefully from the stage and gave the music depth.

Zakir covered the Ramayana epic in a crisp 10-minute capsule. The highlight was Hanuman flying across the ocean in search of Sita. Wish Zakir would push himself more often.

The next incident dealt with poet Tulsidas and Emperor Akbar. When Akbar wanted to see who ‘this Rama’ was, Tulsidas wrote the Hanuman Chalisa. One day, suddenly an army of monkeys swarm Fatehpur Sikri, and a wary Akbar seeing that more armies of horses, elephants, etc. were headed towards his capital, took back his order and set Tulsidas free.

Another historical incident was when Rama is supposed to have saved the Madurantakam tank from overflowing in the late 1700s. During the deluge, the collector, Captain Blaze, had a vision of Rama and Lakshmana standing guard and saving the bunds. Especially well-thought out was the moment when Colonel Blaze enters the Eri Kaatha Ramar Temple and recognises Rama, he instinctively salutes the deity!

The heightened orchestral participation combined with special effects (Krishna) made for dramatic episodes. A little more finesse, a little more exertion and a little less indulgence may go a long way.


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Printable version | Aug 1, 2021 6:23:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/zakir-hussain-bharatanatyam-review/article6704402.ece

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