Camping with concepts

Cultural extravaganzaMargi Madhu as Bali; Chittani Ramachandra Hegde (right)  

What they said

For me the significant moments came in the observations of youngsters, some long standing Spic Macay faithfuls and some very recent, particularly with regard to music. The brother-and-sister violin maestros, one for Carnatic music and the other representing Hindustani Sangeet had several votaries.

T. N. Krishnan's piercingly melodious and bhava filled Hamsadhwani, Yadukula Kamboji, Kapi, Yamuna Kalyani and Sindhu Bhairavi were talked about. As for sister N. Rajam's Yaman where the violin ‘sang the words', her Desh and the Banarasi Dadra which “made my inside dance” received standing applause.

Ravi Kiran's masterful chitra veena playing of Shahana and the rare Varamu had a youngster remarking “But the gottuvadyam sounds less like the guitar than chitra veena!”

An incisive comment wondered why percussionists were becoming so loud.

The excellence of Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam notwithstanding, along with the very gifted Vaikom Gopalakrishnan (ghatam), the remark was “There is always the ‘tani' for showing their merit. Why not be soft when the violin is playing? They drowned it at times”.

The young percussionist who stood out is Giridhar Udupa who made the ghatam speak in myriad tones of musical rhythm.

In fact he, Guruprasanna and B.C. Manjunath (mridangam) provided redeeming percussive joy in the rather inexplicably gimmicky music of the violin duet Mysore Nagaraj and Dr. Manjunath, where one had to search for the sweetness of Charukesi amidst blankets of feverish pace and virtuosity. The concluding moments became confused, unsynchronised individualistic rendition. Pity, for this gifted twosome is capable of more serene, meditative and sur-faithful music.

It was a hot afternoon in Mangalore's Suratkal National Institute of Technology, Karnataka, the venue of the 27th National Convention of the Society for Promotion of Indian Culture and Music Among Youth (Spic Macay). In the packed hall with barely four fans working and people desperately searching for seating points near the open windows with the breeze wafting in, 79-year-old Yakshagana veteran Subramaniam Ramachandran still managed to hold the audience enwrapped in his role as Keechaka, in “Keechaka Vadha” presented by the Sh. Chittani Ramachandra Hegde group. This lecherous brother of Queen Sedeshana of Virata, where the Pandavas for a year remain incognito in various disguises, is throttled to death by Bhima, for trying to force himself on Sirandhri (Draupadi in disguise). The Bhagavatar's superb singing notwithstanding, editing some of the Kannada dialogues could have prevented cutting out the last and really powerful part of the prasanga. The students, wondering at the secret of the vigour and stamina of a near 80-year-old, had only begun the weeklong event featuring distinguished talents from several disciplines including music, dance, folk art, crafts and film classics and even storytelling.

The curtain-raiser for the evening classical performances at the Silver Jubilee Hall saw Malavika Sarukkai at her surcharged best. The explosive energy level combined with the linear beauty and geometry of movement and rhythm in the nrittanjali, with music in Amritavarshini and Keerawani ragas, following the homage to the Lord of Dance Nataraja, pointed to a dancer in special form. But the real transformation was to come in Raas, where the “sub-text” and evoking of that intangible presence and energy of a Being, as multiple Krishnas dance in a circle partnering simultaneously each of the countless gopis, both in the dancer's inspired introduction and rendition, touched ecstatic heights. In the concluding homage to Krishna as Radha Ramana, Kalinganartan, the divine flautist, Srinivasa, Narayana, Venkataramana, the persona of the dancer had ceased to exist. It was a very spirited khandita nayika in the javali “Neematalemayunura” followed by the adoring Yasdhoda in “Krishna nee begane baro” in Yamuna Kalyani, calling out to her little son, finally transfixed in wonderment at what she sees revealed inside his open mouth. Providing excellent accompaniment were Neela Sukanya (nattuvangam), Jyotishmati Srijith (vocal), Neyveli Balasubramaniam (mridangam) and Lakshmi (violin), with lighting by Sai Venkatesh adding to the impact.

It was that evergreen Odissi legacy of Bhubaneswar Misra's Shankarabharanam pallavi, with dance visualisation by late Kelucharan Mohapatra, which saw Madhavi Mudgal and disciple/niece Arushi Mudgal combine like one mind in two bodies, so immaculately synchronised were the fluid transitions from one sequence to another. The Bhairavi pallavi, choreographed by Madhavi, delighted in frozen moments with the two performing in tandem. The sumptuous interpretative segment set to Sanskrit poetry and Odia lyrics saw a quietly evocative rendition by Madhavi of the ashtapadi “Madhave ma kuru manini manamaye”, wherein Radha, the kalahantarita, is persuaded by the sakhi to shed her arrogant pride and meet Krishna, and poet Banamali's “Prana Sanginire” showing Radha's astonished discovery that the mischief of Krishna's name being painted on the soles of her feet was by Kishna himself in disguise. Stealing the show with a vivacious interpretation of Kavi Surya Baladev Rath's ‘Kha' champu “Kharapatu helure” with her own lucid introduction was Arushi. Gandhi Mallick (pakhawaj), Poornachandra Majhi and Manikuntala Bhowmik (vocal), Srinivasa (flute) and Yaar Mohammad (sitar) made a balanced melodic team.

“Balivadham” in Koodiyattam by Margi Madhu's team had its high point in the actor's interpretation of Bali. What an arresting Tara his wife Indu made! This actor has evolved greatly. Time meant editing the last moments of Bali which late Guru Ammanur Madhava Chakyar made so famous. Apart from these two, the other actors are students who still have a long way to go. Kalamandalam Ratheesh Bhas and Kalamandalam Manikanthan provided the dramatic climaxes through the mizhavu percussion. The audience took in the very intense but slow moving theatre attentively. The large number of students joining the Koodiyattam Intensives proved that somewhere Spic Macay's efforts are making a dent in young minds.

Guru S. Thanil Singh's Pung Cholam group in the traditional Sanchar and Raga with pung rhythm in talas of 7, 6, 3 and 14 matras epitomised the Manipuri meditative quality where performing is worship. The performative element came in the choreographed combination of Khartal Cholom, Thang Ta and Pung as the next item. Providing some vigorous moments were Karnataka's folk dances like Kamsale and Pata Kunith. Dastangoi with a hard hitting satire based on political developments in Chhattisgarh showed how age-old narrative forms can be strung to relevantly contemporary contexts.

The ‘Intensives', meticulously organised, showed a careful selection of the best teachers for crafts, attracting an involved set of student aspirants. Dictated by the venue of the convention, Carnatic music had a more prominent presence than usual. It was an education to experience Karaikkudi Subramaniam's class with the chanting done to correct melody and breath control, the pauses as arithmetically calculated as the articulated parts, as the students chanted “ tamagni varnaan tapasaajwalanteem vairochaneem karmaphaleshu dushtaam …”

T.V. Gopalakrishnan's class in the explanations in how to utter the consonants in the Shankarabharam lyric “Srikararoopa”, followed by a simple tillana in Tilang composed by the musician himself, was highly educative. The prominent husband and wife teacher teams of Chennai, the Dhananjayans and the Narasimhacharis, conducted Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi classes (Bangalore's Vyjayanti Kashi also presided over a Kuchipudi class). Malavika Sarukkai's class combined the practical teaching with insightful asides on what concepts in dance themes meant.

Despite the gruelling 4.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. mental and physical grind of the weeklong convention, the huge assembly of a thousand persons of whom only a few will be permanent converts, is proof that somewhere the efforts of Kiran Seth are not going in vein. With Professor Mayya leading the initiative, the Spic Macay Mangalore chapter provided a Convention of fine organisation.