Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha: Journey to the heart of a land

Korukkupet and its people basked in the energy the Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha brought to the locality

Updated - February 07, 2019 01:31 pm IST

Published - February 06, 2019 04:18 pm IST

This is the first time that the people who throng DD Colony Road in Korukkupet’s JJ Nagar, witness a Bharatanatyam recital. Dancers from Radhika Vairavelavan’s Chathurlakshana Academy of Fine Arts are performing as part of the Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha. Radhika’s choices of numbers are audience-friendly — she relates each item to life. The audience breaks into loud applause when the dancers match their steps and abhinaya to TM Krishna’s ‘Porambokku’ song.

I was unfamiliar with Korukkupet and wanted to catch up on its history. “What does KNS stand for in the police booth’s name?” I ask the policemen on duty. “Kodungaiyur Night-soil Post, one of the three in this area,” he says. “This neighbourhood was a lake till it went dry. My dad told me that until a generation ago, the dry lake-bed was a night-soil collection point. A few 10x10 huts with thatched roofs appeared and eventually, toilets came up, the lake was filled with rubble and houses were built.”

We walk through the narrow roads opening to the programme’s venue and the path behind the stage leads to houses. Korukkupet, he says, is a thickly populated area, with train tracks on three sides. The area gets inundated by rain, transport connectivity is poor. Most men work in the local pattarais (iron foundry). “They work hard, and drink hard too,” says the man. Children go to school, but after-school hours aren’t peaceful. Rowdyism, child-labour, and drug-addiction are part of the ethos. There is a lot of commercial activity, with shops and food-joints, but social order is still a dream.

There’s truth in the reputation Korukkupet suffers, says Virgil D Sami, director of Arunodaya, an NGO that’s been doing commendable work here. Getting volunteers is difficult, she admits. Which is why the Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha is a positive intervention. On the stage, young boys from Arunodaya sing songs they have written on alcoholism, displacement, and water scarcity. Women put up stalls selling kozhukkattai , boiled eggs, noodles, and tea. A huge crowd of workers, traders, students, home-makers, and self-employed women gather to watch the programme. “This is a spot for political meetings, which happen often,” says a police officer. “For the first time, we’re managing a tension-free event.” Agrees V Surya, a Class XII student. “A political stage is being used for cultural programmes — that too Bharatanatyam,” he smiles, showing a thumbs-up. “We need such programmes, there are lots of people in the interiors of this colony we can involve.”

The Bharatanatyam dancers warm up to the response. “Performing here is less stressful, there’s no fear of being judged, the appreciation is whole-hearted,” says Radhika. For KR Sreenath of Kalakshetra, it’s a “good experience”. Art should be for everyone, he says, echoing theVizha’s vision. People come to know of different art forms, which helps dispel false beliefs.

B Muthuchandran presents a shadow leather puppetry show that combines stories from the epics with contemporary themes such as girl education and the need for cleanliness, with earthy humour. He says that his forefathers, who came from Maharashtra during the rule of the Tanjore Marathas, practised and popularised puppetry in the villages. “I’m happy that the festival’s organisers have invited me to perform here. We will divide our time between ‘sundara kandam’ of the Ramayana and social issues. This once-popular art-form shouldn’t be allowed to die out.”

The stage is too small for the high-octane performance of the Dancing Dolls troupe — as lights flash and sub-woofers boom, the dancers from Vyasarpadi, Aminjikarai, Royapuram, Korukkupet, Padalam and Maduranthakam somersault, pirouette, rap and dance in perfect sync to a medley of numbers. The audience roars, screams and responds to the interactive lines of the hip-hop music. A fitting finale indeed.

“Classical dance and gaana on the same stage, isn’t that great?” asks G Logan, lyricist, Dancing Dolls. “We thought only gaana was a favourite here. This is a breakthrough.”

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