It’s half a century in dance for actor Vineeth Radhakrishnan

Winner of the first Kalaprathibha award instituted by the Kerala government in 1986, the actor now runs a dance school in Kochi and says connecting with students is a learning experience

Published - June 17, 2023 02:25 am IST - Kochi

Actor-dancer Vineeth Radhakrishnan at his dance school in Kochi on Friday.

Actor-dancer Vineeth Radhakrishnan at his dance school in Kochi on Friday. | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

Actor-dancer Vineeth Radhakrishnan is on a pursuit of joy every moment in his life, and it started, as he recalls, at the age of three when he used to just run around and dance at his house in Koyilandy. As a little child, he used to entertain visitors to his house with a dance number on the song ‘Kettille Kottyathoru Mootha Pillechen’ from the Malayalam film Maanyashree Vishwamithran, which was released in 1974. That pursuit of joy through dance, Bharatanatyam being his forte, has now completed 50 glorious years, and is still on.

“Whenever you do a character as a dancer, you become that, be it Lord Krishna or a prince or even a monkey. That gives you a sense of inner joy. Besides, there is a connection with the Supreme. It is absolute Bhakti beyond religion though our traditional dance items are based on religious beliefs. The joy you get out of this starts moulding you as a person and there will be refinement. Only when there is complete surrender to your Guru, you really start absorbing techniques, and they start growing in you. That’s how these 50 years have been for me,” says Vineeth.

He was the first recipient of the Kalaprathibha award instituted by the Kerala government for the State School Arts Festival held in Thrissur in 1986. A huge, jubilant crowd from St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School, Thalassery, received him and other winners from the school when they arrived at the Thalassery railway station after the fest. The dance maestro still cherishes those moments and joyously remembers how they were taken on top of a van from the station to the school accompanied by a colourful band display.

Vineeth says the State School Arts Festival and the Kalaprathipha award were like stepping stones for him, and there were only healthy competitions at that time. His Guru Kalamandalam Saraswathy encouraged him to participate in the festivals. Meeting her was a turning point in his dancing journey. Though he started learning dance systematically at the age of four from Guru Chemancherry Kunjuraman Nair at Koyilandy, he was “too tiny” to maintain its rhythm. Later, when he was in Class 7, his parents sent him to Saraswathy teacher in Kozhikode. “She started correcting me - my postures, positions, and hasthas. And I started realising what dance is in those four years, understanding its nuances and theory. She even conducted an arangettam for me during the Thiruvangad Sree Ramaswami Temple festival though I used to dance for many functions even before that,” says Vineeth.

After shifting to Chennai for his graduation in 1988, he started learning Kuchipudi under Master Vempati Chinna Satyam. He learned Kuchipudi for three years there. “I learned only the basic adavus and jatis. Kuchipudi helps you in getting a lot of grace, and its movements are very feminine. One needs to undergo intense training to do it properly. But my mind was in Bharatanatyam,” adds Vineeth.

“I will never forget that performance and I was like stunned! I had never seen anything like that before. She was performing Ramaya Tubhyam Namaha on the stage. After the performance, we went to meet her backstage. She looked like a celestial goddess in that yellow aharya”

His passion for Bharatanatyam had been rekindled by a performance that he witnessed in 1988 in New York. His actor-dancer aunt Padmini had taken him to Chicago to perform along with actor Shobhana at a function organised by Malayalees. During his stay there, his aunt took him to watch a performance by Guru Padma Subrahmanyam in New York. “I will never forget that performance and I was like stunned. I had never seen anything like that before. She was performing Ramaya Tubhyam Namaha on the stage. After the performance, we went to meet her backstage. She looked like a celestial goddess in that yellow aharya,” recalls Vineeth.

Actor-dancer Vineeth Radhakrishnan at his dance school in Kochi on Friday.

Actor-dancer Vineeth Radhakrishnan at his dance school in Kochi on Friday. | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

Vineeth became a disciple of Padhukka, as he fondly calls Guru Padma Subrahmanyam, in 1992. By that time, he had become a busy actor in Malayalam and Tamil and could not attend classes regularly. By 2002-end, he went back to her. From that time onwards, he has been a regular student of Padhukka, learning Natya Sastra techniques, items, and later performing in her productions. “I am still attending her classes online which she started for a set of students during the pandemic. In these three years, she taught us 25 extraordinary traditional items.”

He opened his dance school, Nrityagruham, in Kochi in 2019 with the blessings of his revered Guru. Vineeth says he had to refresh himself with all the basics and theories and did a refresher course in Padhukka’s school before launching Nrityagruham. He follows the same pedagogy and processes designed by Padhukka to systematically and scientifically train students. According to Vineeth, Dr. Padma had revived a lost tradition called Marga, which are Natya Sastra-based techniques that are “excellent” for dance training. The present-day Bharatanatyam evolved from this. In the pedagogy, there is training for each and every anga and the student’s body gets trained to take up any movement. His Guru formed the pedagogy by amalgamating it with the present Bharatanatyam adavu techniques. She brought it together and called it Bharata Nrityam. “The pedagogy has a completeness and it makes the learner very rich in the knowledge of theory. It gives incredible possibilities of exploration to students in their dancing journey as there is a huge vocabulary of adavus, items, and movements which they can apply when choreographing or adapting new things,” he says about his Guru’s monumental work which took about 20 years of research to materialise in the present form.

Being a teacher and connecting with students is a learning experience, says Vineeth. He urges students to be selective in this era of information and expose themselves to ‘high-standard dancing’ and watch as many live performances as possible. “Observation is the best way of learning,” he tells young dancers and asks them to stick to a master in their never-ending, blissful journey of dance.

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