Friday, 27 March 2015

Criticism, malice and slander

By V Ramnarayan

A recent article in Sruti by a Bharatanatyam dancer seems to be a cry in anguish, a lament over the less than inspiring atmosphere in which our classical arts are seen to be performed. To quote the blogger, "The arts scene, especially in India, sometimes feels like Hollywood. We, as a society, pride ourselves on having resurrected the status of Art from when it was looked down upon and disrespected. It has its origin in worship, and even though it has moved from ritual to performance, we still proclaim it to be sacred. But look at the way it is talked about and perceived now. Besides the rampant politics, it is sensationalist and it is a “scene” where an words like “diva” are thrown around. Constructive criticism is often replaced by sarcasm and even malice."

The writer continues: ''What happens to art in all this? Where is the reverence? Is it possible to find beauty and silence in all this chatter? Is it possible to feel transformation for both the rasika and the artist, amidst all this noise?'' And again, ''Why are opinions valued so much? Immediately after a performance, what is most important to the artist? How he or she felt about the experience? Or what everyone else thought?''

Unfortunately, it is not only the so-called critics and rasikas who tend to vitiate the atmosphere with below-the-belt comments thrown away casually, with no regard for the feelings or reputation of their victims. Sometimes artists are themselves guilty of launching such unethical attacks on their colleagues and, in their eyes, their rivals.  The discourse has sunk to an unacceptable low in the recent past.

No one is immune from such scurrilous assaults, it seems. Magazines are not, for sure, to go by some of the virulence launched at us on occasion. After we put one of our topnotch musicians on the cover a couple of years ago, one correspondent who should have known better, given his considerable age, asked us if we were financed by said artist. We drew his attention to the libel laws of the land, after which silence has reigned. In his defence, it could be said that he perhaps did not fancy the music of that particular artist, or that he liked some other musician's music more. 

Much worse has been the bile directed at us after another cover story apparently riled an artist (not the subject of the cover story, but a fellow artist) so much that we have been accused of favouritism and much worse. And this, when we carry our commitment to impartiality and fairness to such extremes that other critics find us dull. Of course, the word ''artist'' is used in a loose sense here, for jealousy, cynicism and malice  cannot an artist make, we are sure.

On another occasion, an author who merrily slandered musicians in print, took such strong objection to our mild criticism of his efforts that he described us as the Mylapore mafia. An artist-cum-critic we did not feature and therefore felt neglected called us a provincial magazine for that reason. Hell hath no fury like a performer scorned!

Wonder what Bharata--of Natya Sastra fame--whom every artiste swears by had to say about all this.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Memorial for Mandolin Shrinivas

By Charukesi

It was a solemn and simple ceremony on the third floor of the residence of Mandolin Shrinivas in Kodambakkam, a busy suburb in Chennai, on Saturday, the 28th of March.   The atmosphere was charged with emotion and the ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram cut the ribbon to declare open the Shrinivas Institute of World Music.

“Truly, he was a world musician, representing India at the global level. I have played for him right from the beginning till almost the end!” said Vinayakram, after declaring the renovated hall open. “I have played similarly for M.S. and I cannot but recall it at this moment!” added the maestro. 

“It took nearly three months for us to organize this memorial. We had started planning from December last year and we wanted to dedicate this for his students the world over” said his brother Rajesh. Mandolin Shrinivas, the young wizard had about one hundred and fifty disciples from India and abroad and fifty are from Chennai. Many of them are very young and enthusiastic.

Shivram, one of his students, had helped put together the show containing various photos and certificates and honours. The State of Maryland’s Certificate, the honorary citizenship given by Sharan Pratt Kelly, Mayor of the District of Columbia, USA, the Birudhu patra of Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan, and the National Citizen’s Award given by President Shankar Dayal Sharma are some of the few frames that decorated the walls.

A large number of photos showing Shrinivas in the company of dignitaries and national leaders could be seen. One picture in particular drew the attention of the invitees. It had Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrasekhar, Shankar Dayal Sharma, Sonia Gandhi and R. Venkataraman along with the entire troupe of Mandolin Shrinivas. Shrinivas was a pious man with close connections to Sathya Sai Baba, the Kanchi Acharya, Mother Teresa and former President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam and therefore, a few frames of these have been displayed in the hall.  He played the mandolin along with stalwarts such as Pandit Jasraj, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Bhimsen Joshi, Amjad Ali Khan and Zakir Hussain and no wonder pictures of these eminent artistes have found a place. Photos of his western instrumentalist-friends could also be seen.

R. Rajamani Rajkumar released a Shrinivas CD, which Vinayakram received. “I had accompanied my father to a concert at the age of five. I saw an artiste playing mandolin and I was attracted towards the vadyam and its sound. I began learning from then on!” said Shrinivas in the CD.

It was a poignant moment for Shrinivas’s father who was seen talking to the guests with moist eyes.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

R. Krishnaswami: a gentleman sabhanayaka

By S. Janaki

R. Krishnaswami, Hon. Secretary of the Narada Gana Sabha for almost 43 years, passed away in the early hours of 18 March in Chennai. He was 78. Though he was ailing and was undergoing dialysis thrice a week in the past few months, his interest in the day-to-day running of the Sabha remained undiminished till the very end. It was a triumph of mind over matter. Though weak, just three days before his demise, he had inspected the maintenance work going on in the sabha premises. “A simple servant of music, Bharatanatyam and drama”, that is how Krishnaswami liked to be known.

A senior advocate in the Madras High Court, Krishnaswami was better known as "the most well known face" of the Narada Gana Sabha, and he played a major role in bringing it to its present status. He was a gentleman, frank and forthright in his views as also in his dealings with others. He did not encourage nor put up with hanky-panky ways of seeking performance opportunities. He believed in offering quality programmes to members and rasikas.

He was a strong believer in tradition, but took bold steps when necessary. According to natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan, in the late 1960s and 70s when other organisations shunned male artists, Krishnaswami boldly offered him programmes at the Narada Gana Sabha. It was a revolutionary step which gradually opened up opportunities for male Bharatanatyam artists.

He was a true connoisseur and patron of the arts. When the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) approached him for office space, he readily came forward to give a room in the sabha premises free of rent. ABHAI has been functioning there for almost 25 years.

Twenty years ago, when Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and K.S. Subramaniam – troubled parents of young dancers went to him with their tales of woe about the dance scene, it was R. Krishnaswami who suggested the creation of Natyarangam (the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha) to break the pay-to-perform syndrome for young talent, and to generate awareness among the audience on various aspects of dance appreciation. Under his leadership, Natyarangam has made a mark in the field of Bharatanatyam.

Five years ago, the Haridhos Giri School of Music was started under the aegis of Narada Gana Sabha to encourage talented youngsters  to learn Carnatic music under the guidance of stalwart musicians.

Managing the demands of artists, the audience, the finances and yet uphold a high level of professionalism is no mean task, and R. Krishnaswami, along with his team, successfully balanced all these aspects. In recognition of his service and contribution to the promotion and propagation of the performing arts, the Sruti Foundation honoured him with the M. Venkatakrishnan Memorial Award in 2010. He received the title of Kalaimamani from the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram.

He was President, Federation of City Sabhas and held important positions in several cultural and religious organisations like the DKJ Trust, Tiruppunthuruthy Sri Narayana Teertha Trust, Asthika Samajam, Alwarpet, Gnanananda Seva Samajam, Brahmasri Papanasam Sivan Rasigar Sangam, the Bharata Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture, the Mylapore Academy, and the Bharathi Vidyalaya.

He was a pious man and wrote several articles and books in English and Tamil on the arts, law, religion and spirituality. Two of his books - 'Eppo Varuvaro' on Swami Haridhos Giri and 'Saranagathi' on Hindu philosophical thought and ideals, were published by Vikatan Prasuram. A perfectionist with an eye for detail, he would insist on  proof-reading his articles for 'Margabandhu', the bi-lingual monthly of the GA Trust.

Under his leadership, the Sabha provided a major boost to Harikatha and nama sankertanam. As a Trustee of the G.A. Trust he was deeply involved in the development of the village and temple complex in Thennangur. He initiated the conducting of weekend residential camps on dance and music in the temple-hamlet, which are very popular. His demise is a major loss to the world of music, dance and drama.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Udupi Laxminarayan passes away

By S. Janaki

Well known Bharatanatyam guru Udupi Laxminarayan passed away in the early hours of 17 March 2015 in Chennai. He was 88. He was well versed in Sanskrit, classical music, Bharatanatyam, and the theory of dance.

Always immaculately dressed in traditional panchakaccham, jibba and neatly folded angavastram, soft-spoken Guru Laxminarayan maintained a low profile. When Sruti started working on his cover story in 1998, we initially did not make much headway. We finally invited him to the editorial office where Ed-in-chief Pattabhi Raman and I got him talking and he soon opened up and gave us an elaborate interview. His views on various aspects of dance were interesting; as was his life story. 

Laxminarayan was born on 17 September 1926 into a family of Sanskrit scholars. He learnt Bharatanatyam from Guru Kanchipuram Ellappa Mudaliar and equipped himself further by passing the Government Higher Grade examination in Dance in 1963 with flying colours. 

He started performing in dancer-actor Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury’s group and soon became a dancer in Indian films. He went on to direct dance in more than 50 films. In 1962 he launched his own dance company called Bharateeya Natya Manjari which presented classical, Oriental and contemporary dances. His dance-dramas and thematic presentations like Rukmini Swavamvaram, Dharma Moorti, Silpiyin Kanavu, Mayura Vijayam, and Tala Tala Tarangam were very popular and displayed his penchant for novelty. He was also dance director for Purandaradasa – a film with an all-children cast, made under the guidance of Swami Haridhos Giri.

After quitting films he started a dance school in Chennai called Natya Manjari. Among his senior disciples are his daughter Madhumathy Prakash, Sujatha Srinivasan, Anandavalli Sivanathan, Jayanthi Ramanujam, Emi Mayuri, Divya Kasturi, and Swathi Kamakshi, to name a few. Prabhu Deva – the incredibly flexible dancer in Indian films – learnt Bharatanatyam from Guru Laxminarayan. A DVD on ‘Kanchipuram Style of Dance’ was released in August 2012 during the celebration of 50 years of Natya Manjari.

Udupi Laxminarayan’s guru bhakti was exemplary. Year after year, for several decades, he organised Guru Charana Smaranam to pay tribute to his Guru Ellappa. He was the recipient of several awards like the Natya Kalanidhi from ABHAI, Acharya Choodamani from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Kalaimamani from the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram, Karnataka Kalashree from the Karnataka State Government, Natya Kala Sarathy, and the Narthaka Award.

He published a book ‘Natanattil Pudiya Paathaigal’ which contains valuable information about dance. He has composed many items in Sanskrit for the Bharatanatyam repertoire, which his daughter Madhumathy has brought out as a book titled ‘Udupi Spoorti Ranjana’. Madhumathy and granddaughter Mamtha Rao are carrying on Guru Laxminarayan’s legacy.

(Sruti published a cover story on Udupi Laxminarayan in Sruti 167, August 1998.)