NEWS & NOTES
Upanyasa does not Harikatha make -N. VAIDYANATHAN Tell it pretty Tell it plain, Tell me a story Rich and strange It is all very well to ask. But wishing will not take you far. There is a price to be paid. As I approach the Place of Good Things, the drawbridge is already pulled up. Men with mighty swords order my driver to park the car outside. But I claw my way up the ramparts and sneak past to the doors of the Hall of Great Audience. I sing Varugalaamo (Manji). The dwarapalaka-s remain unmoved. Someone then whispers to them that I am a scribbler of sorts and I am grudgingly allowed to enter and slink into a seat. But wait. There is more to come. The characters onstage are involved in prolonged rituals of ponnadai-flinging, memento-passing, feet-touching, etc. Eventually, in a silence weighed down by expectancy, Visakha Hari walks on to the stage and sits down, upanyasaka-fashion. The performance begins. Billed as a musical discourse, it has more music than discourse. The songs are sung in full, complete with niraval. The story is hurried through in a “bare bones” style. In the process, both song and story suffer.
Sensitive, sensuous Shobana — the filmstar-dancer -S.JANAKI The Nritya Choodamani title was conferred on dancer Shobana on 5th December 2007 on the inaugural day of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha’s 52nd Art and Dance Festival in Chennai. There’s never a dull moment when Shobana is on stage. A powerful dancer, she is blessed with the requisite attributes of a ‘nartaki’ — an expressive face, stunning looks, remarkable stage presence, intelligence, creativity and a passion for the art. Her ‘manaseeka guru’, famous Bharatanrityam exponent Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, who has known her as a child, affectionately declares that Shobana is a ‘complete artist’ — accomplished actor and dancer, well versed in music and aspects of laya. Born on the day of the spring equinox on 21st March 1996 in Kerala, Shobana Chandrakumar is at the age of 41, an achiever in two fields — dance and cinema. A winner of the best actress award many times for her varied roles in films, with two national awards for Manichitra Thazhu and Mitr, My Friend, Padma Shri from the Government of India, Shobana has now added to her kitty the coveted Nritya Choodamani award for dance. Born into a family of dancers, Shobana is the niece of the legendary Travancore Sisters Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini, who made it big in films, and on stage as well, with their popular dance-dramas. It is but natural that Shobana followed in their footsteps and started learning Bharatanatyam at a very early age. She learnt her first dancing steps and adavu lessons to the rhythmic beats of guru K.J. Sarasa’s tattukazhi. Later, after five years of intensive training at the Chidambaram Academy for Performing Arts, under the guidance of Bharatanatyam exponent Chitra Visweswaran, Shobana made her formal debut in Chennai in 1984. “She was a very intelligent, hard working and gifted student,” says Chitra.
Rhadha The dancing heart -SUJATHA VIJAYARAGHAVAN Aurauraa ! bagaaya maremi ala Sarojaakshi valalo dhagili Naa nenaru marachitivi... The refrain of the immortal Huseni swarajati trails off. The dancer recedes into the wings after the blazing tour de force that lasted nearly an hour. The entire audience rises on its feet as one man and breaks into a thunderous ovation that goes on and on, with most hands raised overhead. Artists, rasika-s and disciples mob the sixty-six year old dancer who performed like a sixteen year old. As she rides the swell of admiration and wonder she looks fit enough to go back on stage to do the varnam all over again. “I love to dance,” she says when asked how she feels on this occasion which marks the silver jubilee of her dance school ‘Pushpanjali’. Her disciples, a number of whom have come from the United States to participate in the function, crowd around their guru. The dancing started way back when she was barely six years old. Elder sister Kamala, older by eight years, was already a dancing star on stage and silver screen. Rhadha made her debut in the film Vethala Ulakam, in the Pavalakkodi sequence. She appeared as a toddler dragging the coral chariot. She remembers dancing as a beggar girl in the film Penn. Soon she started doing some light numbers such as the fisherman’s dance and the hunter’s dance in Bharatanatyam performances when Kamala went in for a change of costume. By this time the family had moved to a house on Appu Mudali Street, Mylapore, Madras. The joint family consisted of the couple Rajam and Ramamurthy with their daughters Kamala, Rhadha and Vasanthi and Rajam’s brothers Rajamani and Pattu and their mother.
Bigger... and better? The Return of the Festival of Chennai -S.JANAKI The “mad mad season” is on. The cultural capital of India is reverberating to the sounds of tambura-s (original and electronic), ankle bells, percussion beats, voices and instruments. The season fever catches us at Sruti early as November, when we start receiving enquiries from our media brethren from far and near about recent trends and season statistics. Its time to take out your silk scarves, woollen mufflers, shawls, monkey caps and warm pattu sarees to sail in style through the Madras Music-Dance Season. You are “virtually” caught in the net as you start peering through a magnifying glass at the sheets of season schedules in the special supplement of The Hindu on 1st December. Once you are drawn into it, you just can’t get out of it. The day starts early with the Margazhi bhajana on the Mada streets around temples, the music heritage walks, and the devotional sessions in the various sabha-s where singer-narrators like Kalyanapuram Aravamudan, Udayalur Kalyanaraman and musical groups draw a good following. Then you have the morning lecture demonstrations which provide some food for thought — many of them nourishing, a few indigestible. The staple fare is four kutcheri-s (music and dance) per day, with music dominating. Come December Listeners warm up for the season -V. Ramnarayan The more things change, the more they remain the same. Many of the problems facing Carnatic music (one reader has questioned this anglicized description of our classical music and suggested Karnataka sangeetam as an alternative), especially some undesirable aspects of the Madras December season, like overcrowded programme schedules, indifferent acoustics, bad manners amidst the audience highlighted by the time-honoured tani avartanam exodus, tired voices, traffic snarls and parking woes have continued, even got worse than they were in 1983, Sruti’s first December season. The worst fears of the guardians of our arts have however not been realised — Carnatic music and our other performing arts continue to thrive contrary to expectations of an early demise. Young performers have emerged and enjoy flourishing concert careers — thanks in large measure to technology and an Indian diaspora determined to preserve our heritage from wherever they are in pursuit of their livelihood. While many of them dare to explore new territory in their fields, they have by and large shown respect, even reverence for the rich legacy their artistic forefathers have left behind. The millennium concerts and several other efforts by the music and dance community to remind us of the treasures we have inherited have been substantial, well researched and conducted all over the world.