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.)

Friday, 13 March 2015

Award for Sruti's executive editor

By Samudri
On the occasion of International Women's Day, S. Janaki, Executive Editor, Sruti, was honoured with  the Women Achievers Award, for her service in the field of arts journalism,  by the Women's Voluntary Service of Tamilnadu and the University Women's Association of Madras, on 7 March 2015. V. Susheela, Principal, Avvai Home, and  Janaki were each  presented a shawl, citation and memento by Dr. Yashodha Shanmugasundaram, Asst. Director, WVS. Leelavathi Patrick, Dr. K. Hari Priya and Shantha Venkataraman were also felicitated on the occasion. Scholarships were presented to college students and cash assistance was provided to destitute  women. A group of  WVS staffers presented Villupattu.

Dr. M. Priyamvadha, Asst. Professor, Dept. of Criminology, University of Madras, inaugurated the Legal Aid Centre and delivered a talk on Legal Protection for Women. She said that female infanticide and geronticide are even now rampant in Tamil Nadu. It was horrifying to learn that as many as 108 ways of killing infants and 27 ways to finish of the old are being  adopted in different regions of the state.

In her acceptance speech, Janaki drew attention to the role of arts in society. Arts can play a major role in this violent world by spreading harmony, developing sensitivity and shaping better human beings, she said. Music can soothe even a savage beast. An idle mind is a devil's workshop and it would be good for children to learn some art or the other – music, dance or painting – to channelise their energy and creativity; to pursue the arts as a hobby if not as a profession. The arts inculcate discipline, focus and a sense of fulfilment. Music and dance can make learning more fun in school. If arts and sports are re-introduced for students in schools and colleges, youngsters will shape up into better citizens and there will be less criminals and rapists in society. She exhorted the Central and the State governments to integrate the arts into the school curriculum, give more space to the arts, and  allocate more funds to support the arts and artists because the  rich and unique heritage of art and culture  are India's intangible assets. 

Shakti Swarupa: overcoming disability

By Nita Vidyarthi

A pleasant surprise was in store for the audience at the Guru Krupa Nritya Samaroha 2015, organised in mid-February by the  Debaprasad Nrutya Pratisthan at  Jayadeva Bhawan in Bhubaneswar,   Shakti Swarupa Bir, a sensitive, graceful and competent dancer, can neither hear nor speak, yet she performed Jayadeva’s ashtapadi Sakhi hey Kesi mathanamudaram  without slipping a single beat. She has been trained  by guru Chittaranjan Acharya, a senior disciple of eminent guru Pankajcharan Das.

As you watched Shakti’s  soulful abhinaya  for the song in Pahadi raga set in Yati tala, you could not at any point question her hearing disability or training. Even though she cannot hear the sound of her own ankle bells, she matched her steps with the vibrations of the mardala and percussions accurately to live music. She perhaps employs some method of calculation of numbers to maintain the laya and tala. While performing solo with musicians she follows the hand movements of  the pakhawaj player. While performing duet with her guru she does not need any instructions and that is easiest for her. But in her performance in the festival, she, very skilfully managed to distract the audience from observing it. 

The one-day celebration of Odissi dance spearheaded  by Gayatri Chand, senior  disciple of Guru Debaprasad Das and Founder-cum-Trustee of the Pratisthan, was a maiden venture of the charitable organisation. Organised in  memory of guru Debaprasad Das, the aim was to   provide  a platform to talented young  dancers. Shakti Swarupa is Gayatri’s find. Shakti’s father Durgamadhab Bir was a clerk and Odissi guru Chittaranjan Acharya an engineer at Talcher Thermal in Dhenkanal district in  Odisha. As guru Chittaranjan Acharya lived close to Durgamadhab Bir's house,  Shakti started learning Odissi from him at the age of seven along with his daughter who is also an Odissi dancer. Acharya took pains to explain the techniques and nuances to her and today Shakti is quite a competent dancer. Having watched Shakti in  Chittaranjan Acharya's classes,  Gayatri Chand decided to promote her as a student of the Pankajcharan Das style. During 1985-86 Shakti performed  solo at the Kala Bikas Kendra in Cuttack, under the aegis of the State Sangeet Natak Academy, at the Kalavikas Kendra, and in 1996  she presented a duet with her guru at Rabindra Mandap under the banner of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi. Shakti  acted in the  Bollywood film 'Hamari Beti' which was sent as an entry to the 42nd Chicago International Film Festival 2006. At present she is working as a dance teacher at the Sai International School.

Shakti has set an example with her will power, perseverance, ambition and courage, to emerge as a dedicated  and  graceful dancer.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Focus on pallavi singing at Nadasangamam

By Sivapriya Krishnan

Nadasangamam, an annual event conducted by the music wing of Narada Gana Sabha, is a platform for transfer of knowledge from senior musicians to students of Carnatic music. Inspired by Natyarangam’s Natya Sangraham, the much sought after annual dance camp, this music event was launched and is being co-ordinated by Sumathi Krishnan with R.S. Jayalakshmi as the convenor. Thennangur, situated about 117 km from Chennai, is the chosen venue for this camp which has been conducted successfully for four consecutive years. This was the first time I was witnessing the sessions.

The theme for this year was ‘Pallavi’. The sessions were conducted from 6 to 8 February by R. Vedavalli, Chitravina Ravikiran, R.S. Jayalakshmi, A.S. Murali, Shruti Jauhari and Renjith Babu. Vocalists Mala Mohan and Sumitra Vasudev assisted in co-ordinating the event as part of the team. 

The serene atmosphere of the place, coupled with the prevailing divinity of the temple was an apt setting to internalise some of the best aspects of Carnatic music. The first evening opened with a session of bhajans by Keerthana Bharadwaj and the second was a musical evening by all the participants.

Renjith Babu, Yoga teacher and Bharatanatyam dancer (disciple of Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar), set the tone in the morning by discussing the art of breathing, the importance of posture and the right food intake to produce good music. His agility and composure, was enviable. Sumathi Krishnan began the sessions with a couple of slokas and introductions, following which the resource persons for the day would take over.

Chennai-based Shruti Jauhari, Hindustani vocalist from the Maihar gharana, holds a doctorate in music, is an exponent of khyaal and thumri and works at A.R. Rehmans’ school of music. She is endowedwith a voice that travels effortlessly over several octaves and her ideas on how to produce the right voice for classical singing were very interesting. ‘Nabhi-hrut-kantha-rasana’ said Tyagaraja. She demonstrated the way to produce rasa from the navel to the throat. She said a robust voice could be built without shouting or exerting unwanted pressure on the vocal chords. Though Carnatic music may require a slightly different treatment of the voice for the production of some specific gamakas, the underpinning lesson was that full throated music need not necessarily translate into screaming in the higher octaves. 

Be it teaching, singing, or playing the chitraveena, N. Ravikiran articulates complicated subjects so clearly, that even an elementary student finds it easy to grasp. He explained in a lucid manner with sound examples and explanations how to construct a pallavi and how it is important to balance the tala, sahitya, bhava and the intellectuality of treatment. He explained that in a pallavi construct, the sync between music, lyrics and metre is of paramount importance. Ravikiran’s ability to connect with the youth was amazing. With references from the computer lexicon, he told them that the memory size of the hard disk (brain) has to be constantly expanded, with many file partitions on the disk, but will not suffice if the random access memory is not fast enough to quickly retrieve and connect the dots! He beautifully explained that music presentation on stage should follow the CID principle (content, intent and delivery) and said that unless the three fall in place at the same time, the presentation cannot be a success.

Veteran vainika and teacher R.S. Jayalakshmi could also easily connect with the youngsters, despite her age and seniority. Her demonstration of pallavis, especially the rettai arudi ragamalika pallavis was very interesting. She explained various aspects like how and when anulomam and trikalam are done, as well as the various points to sing tisram for a pallavi. She elaborated on raga nuances and pallavi patterns with several examples and gave the students small pallavi exercises. She was quite a favourite with the participants.

A.S. Murali of Kalakshetra, a disciple of P.S. Narayanaswamy, is a vocalist and a percussionist. He explained the systematic approach to kalpanaswara singing in Carnatic music. Starting from small one-fourth avartana swaras he moved on to complicated poruttams and korvais and explained the method behind the mathematics of swaras. He showed that sarvalaghu swara patterns are not rambling swaras strung together; it is essential to be practice them well as these swaras demanded both imagination and arithmetic, balanced in proportion. He made a complicated subject seem easy with his interesting approach and comments.

R. Vedavalli, the doyen among Carnatic musicians, has been a great resource, guide and mentor for Nadasangamam over the last four years. This year too she participated with great enthusiasm and provided essential inputs on many aspects of Carnatic music. She gave a brilliant lecture on the art of niraval singing and its importance to pallavi exposition. She emphasised that a pallavi is complete only if it allows for an elaborate and expansive niraval singing. A pallavi construct according to her, has to have minimal words and a measured spacing between words (karvais) which then lend the musician enough scope to explore the kalpana aspects of niraval singing. She also elaborated on the comparisons and contrasts of the two schools of thought on niraval for pallavi singing and demonstrated some old pallavis. A master teacher, she directed the students so skillfully, that she made a group of students who were relatively new to this concept, actually sing a pallavi by giving them small assignments in different talas.

The highlights of the two-day sessions were the little quiz on a video about T. Brinda that was screened, the extempore little viva held for each participant to help them understand was taught, and the open discussions and clarifications in the night after the close of the days sessions.

The finale was a small examination. The students were given a set of words and they had to gather in groups of five and compose a pallavi in any raga and tala, but set only in chatusra nadai. The group had to sing the pallavi and demonstrate trikaalam for the basic construct. Prizes were given to the top two renditions and the sessions came to a close with the valedictory function where certificates were distributed to the students.

Two days of unhindered immersion in music, the gourmet food, the divine darsan of the Lord, the singing sessions in the evening in front of the sanctum sanctorum, the vivacity of the young participants, the approachability of senior artists, and the fun and games centered around Carnatic music in which all of us took part during the return bus journey – all these made for a true nada-sangamam.

(The author is a marketing professional, Carnatic vocalist and senior disciple of R. Vedavalli)

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Suguna Purushothaman: a remarkable person

By Sandhya Vinjamuri

The demise of vidushi Suguna Purushothaman on 25 February 2015 has dealt another blow to the world of Carnatic music. An ever smiling person with incredible knowledge of laya aspects of Carnatic music and with a gamaka laden sonorous, sweet voice, Suguna’s concerts were enjoyed by connoisseurs and the lay audience.

I had seen Suguna Purushothaman at the Central College of Carnatic Music in the early 1970s. My next encounter with her was in 2001 in Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A. at our music academy SIMA. We had arranged her lecdem followed by a concert with both the Sugunas of the Musiri school – Purushothaman and Varadachari – singing together. Suguna Purushothaman arrived early and while the stage arrangements were undeerway, our president Dr. Vijayaraghavan requested me to give her company. Greetiong her with a namskaram I introduced myself as Vinjamuri Varadaraja Iyengar’s daughter. She smiled and told me that she had visited my father at our house in Himayatnagar, Hyderabad in 1959 along with her guru Tinniam Venkatarama Iyer. She recalled how my father had persuaded her to taste her first cup of tea, saying it was a special tea imported from London. I was amazed at her memory. 

Suguna Purushothaman won the ‘Vinjamuri Varadaraja Iyengar Memorial’ Gold Medal four times for the best pallavi singing during the music season at the Music Academy, Chennai – in 1996, 1999, 2004 and 2007. In 2005, she also performed for the ‘Vinjamuri Memorial Festival’ conducted by SICA of Hyderabad. She readily gave me permission to record her lecture demonstration on talas. The lecdem revealed her expertise in laya. With her daughter Kumuda singing along, she demonstrated how sarali swaras could be practiced by students to improve laya gnanam by keeping the tala steady and singing in three kalas, and by changing the tala speed and singing in one kala. She also demonstrated ‘dwitala avadhanam’ by keeping two different talas in each hand as she sang and finishing perfectly at the end. She said she had learnt the art from her guru Venkatarama Iyer, by singing the Bhairavi varnam of Pachimiriam Adiyappaiahwhile putting the Ata tala in one hand and the chaturasra jati Triputa tala in misra nadai in the other. She threw light on the creation of the Sarabhanandana tala by composer Syama Sastry and demonstrated the Simhanandana tala (128 aksharas), Sarabhanandana tala (79 aksharas) and also Lakshmeesa tala (24 aksharas). She also sang a pallavi/ tillana she had composed for the demo. It was mesmerising to see her demonstrate such intricate talas effortlessly. I remember, at the end of the demo the official who proposed the vote-of-thanks remarked that he found it difficult to even keep the tala on one hand and it was truly amazing how Suguna Purushothaman maintained two different talas in two hands as she sang.

In 2011 I met Suguna Purushothaman at the Tyagaraja Aradhana in Cleveland. I went up to her as she stood outside the motel and asked her whether she needed some help. She recognized me and told me that she would like to go to the concert hall, but was afraid of crossing the road alone as she could not walk fast and needed someone to assist her. I gladly walked with her to the university hall and we struck up a pleasant conversation. That was one of the memorable days in my life when the heart was filled with joy and contentment. Such was the time spent with Suguna Purushothaman.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Vempati’s Helping Hands

By Nandini Ramani

Vempati Ravi Sankar, son and torchbearer of the Kuchipudi tradition of the illustrious master Vempati Chinna Satyam, recently launched his new venture “Vempati’s Helping Hands”. Ravi Sankar presented cash awards to longtime associates of Vempati Chinna Satyam who had provided orchestral support in his long journey to propagate the art of Kuchipudi in Tamil Nadu. Octogenerian musicians Sangeeta  Rao and C.P. Venkatesan and vocalist D.V. Kanakadurga, received a purse contributed by Guru Vempati's students. Ailing make-up man, Nageswara Rao, though not connected directly with Vempati's Kuchipudi Arts Academy, also received a cash award as he had worked with several artists over the years. Well known exponents T. Lokanadha Sarma, S. Rajeswari, Padmini, and P. Surya Rao, who were members of the orchestra for many years, were  also honoured on the occasion. Kuchipudi dancer and teacher, Bala Kondala Rao, prime disciple of Vempati Master was accorded special recognition, as were  Kishore Mosalikanti and a few other senior students. 

There were several moving moments during the "kala aradhana" function as each artist was introduced, fond memories of guru Vempati Chinna Satyam were shared, and many lauded Vempati Ravi’s new endeavour called “Helping Hands”. Earlier, Vempati Ravi, himself a multi-faceted artist, sang and conducted (ably assisted by Kalpana) the Kuchipudi  concert by his junior and senior students who performed a jatiswaram in Athana, Sivashtakam, and Rukmini Patra Pravesam (performed by his wife Priyanka Vempati), all of which highlighted the mesmerising choreography of the late Vempati Chinna Satyam. Veteran Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam exponent and guru M.V. Narasimhachari and this writer were the chief guests. M.V.N. Murthy, Kuchipudi dancer, teacher and senior disciple of Vempati Chinna Satyam was the master of ceremonies. It was a heart-warming event.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Bharati: Shraddha’s play for children

By Charukesi

Vijay Tendulkar; Delhi’s YadarthaPenneswaran;Ramesh Vinayakam.  This rare combination of theatre talent, responsible for a recent production of the play Bharati offered a really enjoyable evening's entertainment at Narada Gana Sabha, in November last year--confirmation that the Tamil theatre group Shraddha has come of age.  

If Shraddha's inaugural production Dhanushkoti was a whiff of fresh air in the Tamil sabha theatre scene, it indeed created a stir among the audience, for its unmatched set design with rain water pouring from the top in the middle of a house in the coastal town of Dhanushkoti.  The play was set in the midst of a tempest when rain lashes the town.

Prominent Tamil writers like Anand Raghav and Era Murukan contributed unsual scripts to Shraddha’s subsequent productions such as Doosra Valai, Vadavooran, Vyuham, and Viduran, which were different in conception and presentation,

Bharati was different.  It was meant for children, but the audience consisted entirely of elders.   Vijay Tendulkar wrote this script over thirty years ago and Yadartha Penneswaran an avid theatreperson from Delhi thought it fit to translate it into Tamil for its contemporary relevance.

An employed couple leave Bharati, (played by Mahima) at home for work but return only in the night, when the girl is asleep. When the incomes of both husband and wife determine the economic prosperity of a normal middle class family, children like Bharati tend to suffer alone.  

In her innocence, Bharati turns the clock to night to make her her mom and dad return home, but ends up meeting characters like Micky Mouse, the moon-girl, stars, mermaids, Akbar, Birbal, Shivaji, Joker, and Horseman trying to be friendly with her.  The child Bharati longs to see her mother and father, but they turn up only at midnight, cursing each other.

What stands out in the production is its true to life make-up of the artists, costumes, sets and utterly enjoyable acting of the first timers – all of them.

YadarthaPenneswaran has translated the original Marathi play (‘Bobbychi Ghostha’) with all its powerful scenes and mild humour.  

The background music by Ramesh Vinayakam is very appropriate and he sings a song, too!

Shraddha staged the play for the first time on Children’s Day, but only very few children were there in the auditorium.  One hopes Shraddha will take it to many more venues so that children enjoy the play with all its lovable characters and superb music.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Nandini Sharma Anand

Musicians for classical dance

By Anjana Anand

Nandini Anand began her career with training in both the practical and theoretical aspects of music. An ‘A’ grade vocalist from All India Radio, she is at present a full time Bharatanatyam vocalist who has accompanied senior artistes in the field. She speaks to Sruti about her entry into the Bharatanatyam world and her satisfying journey to date.

Has music been a part of your life since childhood?

Yes, my parents were interested in music and my sister used to learn Carnatic music when we were in Bombay. I moved to Chennai when I was in my second standard and my exposure grew. I started going for competitions and took music more seriously. My early training was with a teacher named T. Vijayalakshmi.  By the time I finished my 12th standard, I knew that I wanted to take music up full time.

You started your career in music in the formal setting of a university. Did research interest you?

I finished my B.A in music at Queen Mary’s College and Masters at Madras University. I also completed the Junior Research Fellowship exam by UGC and had an opportunity to apply for a PhD. However, I decided not to continue in that line. Somehow, I felt I wanted to focus on my singing and research did not interest me anymore at that point in my life.

What was the turning point as regards your entry into the Bharatanatyam field?

During a series of concerts, mridangist Viswanathan, asked me whether I could sing in a recording for Dr. Nagaswamy’s production. Many dancers heard the music in that production and Revathi Ramachandran contacted me to ask me to sing for her.

Who were your music gurus?

I continued my learning with DK Pattammal. At the University, I had many teachers, Ritha Rajan, Suguna Varadachari and Karaikudi Subramaniam to name a few.  The standard of teaching was so high that I felt very confident of my foundation in music. I could feel that I had moved to another level because of that exposure. My last stint was with the late Suguna Purushothaman.

Did you find it difficult to adapt to different teaching styles?

People used to say that I had the MLV school of music in my voice and music. When I joined Pattammal, I was not conscious of styles. I just absorbed and learnt the way I was taught.  I am not a great fan of divisions based on banis and styles. I feel we should focus on the music and take the best from each teacher. Some things might be easier to adapt depending on your voice and we have to be aware of that. Of course there is a difference in pathantaram from teacher to teacher but when you learn from the best, this only gives you a wider understanding of music.  Finally, your music will only get better if you keep an open mind.

The artistes you have sung for in the Bharatanatyam field?

I have sung for Sudharani Raghupathy for many years. Singing continuously for different schools helped me because I began to understand how my music could help the dancer. In Revathi Ramachandran’s school, the music was more fixed and I noted down the repetitions, whereas in Sudharani aunty’s school, it was more fluid. I had to watch for a cue from the dancer to move to the next line of music. Recently, I have sung for Alarmel Valli, Malavika Sarukkai, students of Jayanthi Subramaniam and Roja Kannan.

From the time you started singing for Bharatanatyam, how has your music changed ?

To be honest, when I first started singing, I was not aware of the dance! Of course I loved Bharatanatyam. From a young age, I used to watch performances with great interest but perhaps it was the costumes and glamour that I was attracted to! Because even back then, I was not aware of the music being sung while the dancer performed.

When I first started singing, my focus was only on my music and about singing correctly. I would even close my eyes and sing in my own world! It took many years before I began to see the performance as a whole, where the music interacts with the dance. That was quite a learning curve for me. Today, when I sing, I feel very much part of the whole presentation. I watch the dancer very closely and I sing for the dance.

Has your music changed in any way after singing for Bharatanatyam?

The most noticeable change for me was an improvement in keeping tala. As a concert artiste, I never paid much attention to my tala as it moved naturally with the music. When I started to sing for Bharatanatyam, I had to concentrate and be very precise with the tala as there were so many cross rhythms happening simultaneously. My concept of bhava also expanded. In a kutcheri when we sing keertanams, the emphasis is on raga bhava. Once I started singing for natyam, I became more conscious of the words and bringing out the emotion the dancer was portraying.

Have you composed music?

Yes I composed music for some of the Natyarangam thematic series, like Amba- Shikhandi performed by Priya Murle. I set the music for the Pillai Tamizh choreographed by Uma Namboodiripad.

Do you continue singing in cutcheris?

I find it difficult to juggle both. Singing for Bharatanatyam takes a toll on the voice because of rehearsals. Also, now I have reached a stage where I enjoy singing in a natyam performance. There is no tension because my practice is complete and my mind is tuned to the work. To sing for cutcheris regularly, I need to practice for that specially. To be honest, I don’t see the necessity to pressurize myself and become tense by over working. I believe that music should be an unstressful part of my life!