FRIDAY REVIEW

Tradition nurtured with dedication

NANDINI RAMANI

Natarajan as Chandramati... outstanding performance.

Natarajan as Chandramati... outstanding performance.  

IF THE Bhagavata Mela Natakam has endured in all its glory in the remote village of Melattur, attracting lovers of art from all over the globe, the credit goes to the sincere efforts of S. Natarajan, the force behind Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Jayanthi Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam.

Following the footsteps of the veterans from his family, Ganesa Iyer and Swaminatha Iyer (grandfather and father of Natarajan), Natarajan worships the tradition of Bhagavata melam, even while engaged in his profession at Dubai.

The month of May brings him every year to rededicate his service at the altar of the Supreme Deity.

The 63rd year festival of this Sangam was inaugurated by art-patron, Nalli Kappuswami Chetty. Padma Subramaniam participated in this function. The Tirukkarugavur Brothers rendered the Mangala Isai.

This year Natarajan had organised a 10-day series which included, apart from the original Natakams, Bhakti Sandhya — a tribute in music and dance to the great poets of the Bhakti movement by Anupama Kylash (dance) and Anusuya Murthy (Music), both from Hyderabad, — Bharatanrityam by Padma Subramaniam, Odissi by Masako Ono of Japan (Nrityagram) Gauiya Nritya by Banani Chakraborty of Kolkata and Odissi by Shalini Sharma of Mumbai.

The objective obviously was to make this annual feature a multi-cultural event. The agrahara in front of Sri Varadarajaswami temple was packed on all the days of the festival with local people as well as tourists from various places within the country and outside. However the main attraction is the exquisite artistry of Natarajan and his powerful portrayal of the different roles.

Among the Natakams presented this year, Dhruva Charitram was a new production. Prahlada, Harischandra (Parts I & II,) Kamsa Vadham, Seetha Parinayam, and the Tamil opera Valli Thirumanam were also presented. With the staging of Dhruva Charita, Natarajan has successfully completed the task of staging all the ten plays of Melattur Venkatarama Sastry, available — a praiseworthy achievement in propagating the dance-drama worship.

Like all the other dramas, Dhruva Charitram has delightful lyrics and musical content, all reconstructed by Natarajan from the original manuscripts. Dance choreography adheres firmly to the authentic mode; the play as such does not offer great scope for abhinaya improvisation or crucial details of enactment.

Tone was set for the play with the majestic Begada Daru (Kunjara) for the entry of Sri Vigneswara. Natarajan as King Uththanapada (described beautifully as Inakulabdhi Poornacandrudu — the full moon of the dynasty), gave an impressive performance. Bhairavi, Kalyani, Atana Kharaharipriya, Mohanam, Vasanta, Varali, Anandabhairavi, Ahiri, Sri and Sindhubhairavi were some of the ragas that came one after another, all beautiful lyrics replete with rasa and bhava.

From `Dhruva Charitam'... captivating presentation.

From `Dhruva Charitam'... captivating presentation.  

The main dancers of this troupe, Srikanth and Vijay Madhavan, seem to have imbibed the nuances of Natarajan. In this play, Srikanth as Suneeti and Vijay as Suruchi, the queens of Uththanapada, gave clear proof of their talent.

The interactive sections between the queens (Athanudu), the sad feelings of Suneeti at her son being refused the right to sit on the lap of the king (Entanorva), Suneeti appealing to the Lord (Murahari Krupa), their tactful usage of the space, were all noteworthy.

The central role of the play, Dhruva, was enacted by little Prasanna, nephew of Natarajan, who won hearts with his fine delivery of dialogue, sensitive facial expressions and keen observation. His involvement even at this young age (nine years) was amazing. For those who had seen him playing around on previous occasions this seemed like a mystical transformation. The credit goes to Natarajan's daughter, Priyamvada Murali (disciple of Chitra Visveswaran), who has trained Prasanna for all the roles he depicted during this festival. The perpetuation of this family tradition along with Natarajan's other brothers and longtime associates like Varadarajan is thus ensured.

Sai from Chennai was another young boy (also trained by Priyamvada), who enacted the role of the brother of Dhruva, with neat dance technique.

Dhruva's prayer to the Lord and the response of Sriman Narayana were narrated in beautiful Sanskrit poetry (Aadhaara Bhootah, etc.) An innovative inclusion was a brief Mallari adapted for receiving Dhruva who is brought in a palanquin with due honours.

The lively presentation of the story of Dhruva concluded with Phalasruti, wherein, the viewer and listener are blessed with Vairagya, Dhrudha Bhakti etc., underlining the faith that the devout Dhruva will be remembered until the moon and stars shine (Aachandraarka).

Harischandra (I & II), discussed at length earlier in this column, always creates a bond between the artistes and the viewers, with its deep emotional content conveyed through exquisite lyrical compositions. Kumar as Harischandra gave a moving portrayal, especially at the separation of Chandramati after the sad plight of selling her as a maidservant. Srikanth as Chandramati-I was very impressive as she always is. Vijay as Maatangakanya was vibrant.

However, it is always Natarajan who steals the show with his outstanding performance as Chandramati in Part-II of the play. His depictions of Intipani (fulfilling the domestic chores at the brahmin's house) Poyi rara, Inta Proddaayane (Awaiting the return Of Lohidasa), the lamentations on hearing the death of the son, and earlier Medapai followed by the beautiful portrayal of pleasant memories with her beloved speak of marvellous artistry.

It is pure Natya approach clothed in feminine grace and beauty of movements and mudras. Natarajan's capacity to express the different shades of emotions never fails to amaze one. It is apt that he has been chosen for the Sangit Natak Akademy Award. There is a lot that the present day Bharatanatyam dancers can learn from Natarajan's technique.

The orchestra of this Sangam has strong vocal support from the Thiruvaiyaru Brothers — Narasimhan and Venkatesan — who are training to reach the high standard of musical quality maintained by the veterans of the past. Narasimhan sang quite well but one wondered if Venkatesan's voice had become brittle.

Prabhakar was too loud and the poor acoustics did not help the singers. Andankoil Babu (violin), Nellai Balaji (mridangam), Delhi Krishnamurthi who rendered timely assistance for Nattuvangam, and the new Granthika or the text reader, Rameswaram Kalyanasundara Sastrigal, contributed significantly to the success of the plays.

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