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- American psychologist Abraham Maslow

Hmmm- sums up how harsh and shrill the tone has been amongst some cultural and social circles.

Sitting in Chennai where the temperatures are rising every second, there is much to talk about - and the two main events in the dance and music world DID NOT reflect much positivity. MOST of the action was OFF STAGE... and social media was the battle ground for much of the tussle of words, egos, ideologies and theories.

What am I talking about?
I will get to that
But first... the good news... no, the GREAT NEWS!


Anita Says on TIMES SQUARE giant screen in New York City

I was on the TIMES SQUARE giant screen in New York City!

How can I NOT begin with excitement and exhilaration of that moment?!
To see my images promoting the new Podcast, ANITA SAYS flashing on the largest LED digital screen in that iconic corner of the Big Apple was simply EUPHORIC.

Woo hooo! Yes, I did let out a whoop of joy! It felt like I had come a full circle to return to my former home where I began my media career. The giant screen was on the very same street as my former television studio and was such a familiar sight when I walked past it daily. On New Year's eve, I would stand along with thousands of people staring up at those screens and waiting for the ball to drop! I have watched so many great brands and artistes featured on those gigantic displays and the largest screen always caught everyone's eye.

And there I was! There I WAS!!!
Words cannot describe my emotions... excitement? Yes... and many others... but mostly GRATITUDE!

What a fantastic achievement by the marketing team. TEAM ANITA RATNAM. A very big THANK YOU to them! This is possibly a FIRST for Indian dance to occupy that space!

Dancer Sonali Skandan captured that moment for us and described it as "phenomenal and awe inspiring to see it up close!" Thank you, Sonali.


At Women's day event on the invitation of the business publication THE EDGE

With Deputy High Commissioner Subhashini Narayanan & Ramli Ibrahim

With Nadirah Zakariya

With Nadirah Zakariya & Auntie Gaik

March began with a wonderfully received performance of NAACHIYAR NEXT in Bengaluru with a standing room only audience and every face wet with tears at the end. Rushing to catch a flight to Malaysia, I literally raced to the airport.

Over the past 40 years, my frequent visits to Malaysia have always been memorable. With Guru Bhai Ramli Ibrahim as my friend and gracious host, memories have always been wonderful. This time, it was on the invitation of the business publication THE EDGE and its dynamic senior executive Diana Khoo. As part of the WOMEN'S DAY event, I was on the panel with two fabulous women. One, a self portrait photographer Nadirah Zakariya and Malaysia's first woman owned Michelin Star restaurant in Penang, Auntie Gaik - A photographer, a chef and a dancer - Malaysian, Chinese-Malaysian and Indian. The conversation was free and flowing, with Nadirah Zakariya, the youngest, , speaking of the tiresome statements from her elders about her single status and why that propelled her to become a self portrait photographer. Auntie Gaik spoke of being shunned and turned away by so many famous hotels and restaurants with the statement, "We do not allow women in the kitchen". When her son requested her to start cooking so that her recipes would not be forgotten, the now famous restaurant of the same name (booked for 6 months ahead!) is a testament to this 70 year old’s determination. 

I also had the opportunity to talk to the Indian dance community at the invitation of the Indian High Commission. With the deputy High Commissioner, Chennai born Subhashini Narayanan in attendance, I spoke about the changing world and words swirling around dance practice and studies. I cannot and must not imagine that every idea that emerges out of American academia will find currency half way around the world. The concept of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusivity) has not yet arrived and neither has the concept of "woke", identity politics. The large and attentive audience of mainly dancers, teachers and artists shared similar concerns about distracted students and porcupine egos that wait to be soothed and stroked. Almost every young dance student is taking the time and effort between jobs, to stay in touch with their practice and the mostly Tamil and Malayali diaspora community consider Indian dance and music as precious elements of their heritage.

Madras Music Academy

So much activity and bristling energy in classical dance and music in March. Two major events occurred almost simultaneously. The protest over the selection of the prestigious Sangita Kalanidhi Carnatic music award to TM Krishna by the Madras Music Academy and the Colourism remarks made by Mohinattam dancer Kalamandalam Satyabhama about a male Mohiniattam performer.

Both announcements caused flare ups of caste, class and elitism - all over again.

TM Krishna
TM Krishna

In the case of the Madras Music Academy's selection of this year's SANGITA KALANIDHI awardee, the Carnatic music fraternity was sharply divided about the choice, given the fact that it was T M Krishna, widely regarded as the "rebel" of the classical music world. In 2015, citing the stifling insularity, elitist and exclusionary practices in the Carnatic (Karnatik as he likes to spell it) music world, its nexus to NRI money and the dangers it posed to the art itself, Krishna announced his withdrawal from the December season calendar. Since then he has shaped his image and grown his brand using every privilege along the way. Praised and trolled repeatedly on social media, some of his statements about India's musical legends have been downright unbecoming of his musical abilities. With the open support of the left leaning media (especially THE HINDU that has consistently given him the space to air his views), the TMK juggernaut seemed hard to stop. Sri N Murali, President of the Madras Music Academy, is also from the founding family of THE HINDU. When Krishna's name was announced for the much coveted award, it came as a surprise to many and a shock to many more.

The fall out was immediate. The exodus of prominent performers was started by a social media post written by popular Carnatic vocalists Ranjani and Gayatri who pulled out of the December season citing Krishna's "hate politics". Other prominent artistes withdrew and as of this writing, many more have joined the list. The media circus has been a non-stop maelstrom of sharply worded opinions creating a scenario of hero vs villain. As California based writer Kalpana Mohan says, "All of India loves a villain. TM Krishna's stature now matches that of India's favourite mythological villain from the Ramayana – Ravana - himself a brilliant musician, who had a tendency to separate people from their heads." The epic story also has the incident of Hanuman, who when threatened by Ravana's entourage, elongates his tail, winds it into a coil like throne and sits on top looking DOWN at Emperor Ravana - a staring match then ensues... who will blink first?

TM Krishna is articulate and convincing in his writings and speeches, but is nevertheless, a polarising figure. He has sparked important conversations around the practice and patronage of classical music. To many of his ardent supporters, his ready acceptance of the award from the very institution he shunned 9 years ago was even more surprising. He is now seen by several people as backtracking and betraying his earlier social justice theories.

However, in the end, it all boils down to a private organisation that is giving an award to a talented and controversial musician.

Music Academy - Nagaswaram festival
The positive aspects of the Music Academy-TMK controversy can be construed as a shift that has possibly occurred by the executive committee to overlook the slurs and slights aimed at them by Krishna and to begin the broadening of their own programming roster that has delivered a monolithic aesthetic of Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music over the past 15 years. The Academy held a 3 day Nagaswaram festival in their mini hall which was ear splitting in acoustical overload but well attended, with most of the committee members present. The Nagaswaram is an open air instrument and needs to be heard in the larger main hall and during the December season.

Perhaps TM Krishna can now work on the issues he has been citing from the inside instead of throwing stones from the outside? Since he has started holding forth on Bharatanatyam issues as well, will we see more diversity in dance aesthetics that I have been repeatedly asking for in my writings? Audiences are not fools. They can make up their own minds. This is not a time for a frightened retreat by the "Right" for fear of invasion from the "Left". Or the other way around. Good Art will stand the test of time.

This is perhaps also the time and place to ask how these private sabhas function. Most of the existing organisations in Chennai are family based. Some, while not directly run by the father-son-daughter template, also seem to function like closed door/closely held feudal fiefdoms. There is little transparency in how the artistes are selected, very little change in the structure of the committees, a glaring lack of diversity in the background of the members who constitute the spine of these organisations. It is from THERE that the change needs to happen. A 5 year term renewed once should not be extended again and again. A change in the management and committee structure every 10 years at least needs to occur to usher in fresh perspectives and ideas. If we look at the main sabhas in Chennai, the management has not changed in 15 to 20 years. Almost every name in these sabha committees is from a dominant caste community. How can this be a positive sign for any cultural organisation?

Today Bharatanatyam is being taught, studied and performed by such a diverse range of students and artistes. However, there are almost no academics or persons from the liberal arts on the board of these private organisations. None of these sabhas have an Artistic Director who travels and watches trends and notices emerging talent. None of them seem genuinely interested in shifting the needle or the conversations that occur around dance and music. Every single person has a "Day Job" that pays their bills and so this sabha position is merely window dressing for social clout. Today, accountants, lawyers, hospitality managers, software engineers and historians dominate these committees and assert their power over artiste selection for performance and awards. We can then only expect a continuous line of artistes, head bowed and hands folded in submission, waiting for that pearl necklace of patronage and opportunity to be thrown around their necks! How can this continue and how can we expect professionalism in dance and music?

The call for "dismantling" these towers of power and privilege cannot be achieved by one side agitating on social media, using clever academic jargon. There has to be a concerted effort across identities in the social strata to come together and create the change. Standing in corners of a boxing ring with gloves on - glaring like enemies and unwilling to move towards each other - this is the current scenario.

And then, there are the gatekeepers. Those who profess liberal attitudes and who deliberately keep moderate voices out of their closed door deliberations on caste and dance. This is not a healthy trend, especially in the case of dance academics based in the West, whose writings over the past 20 years have sought to ignite fires, sow division, distract, engulf, or guilt trip the younger generation of dancers into relinquishing what they hold dear.

Gloves on or off! Whichever way you look at it, the present arts world is experiencing a churning and we need to watch with interest.

Kalamandalam Satyabhama
Kalamandalam Satyabhama
Kalamandalam Satyabhama
RLV Ramakrishnan

In Kerala, the well-known Mohiniattam dancer Kalamandalam Satyabhama came under fire for a comment made during a long interview with a Malayalam YouTube channel. In this conversation, she spoke of the many problems that existed in the dance competitions in several Kerala cities, where winning the first place was once guaranteed a medical seat in a university. She spoke of the wrong doings as well as one of the criteria for the judges being "Soundaryam" / Beauty. While the interview raised several important points, her one comment about a male Mohiniattam performer's skin colour was singled out. Ms Satyabhama compared the dancer without naming him, saying "the dancer from Chalakudy" (a town in Kerala) whose skin was "the colour of a crow". Even without mentioning his name, the audience immediately knew that she was referring to Mohiniattam performer RLV Ramakrishnan, because she has had an ongoing feud with the dancer in the past. The Kerala film community also joined the discussion and subsequently the complex politics of the dance competition scenario in Kerala has been totally glossed over. The sudden death of Mr Shaji, a judge at one of these dance shows, has been forgotten in this current controversy.

While Ms Satyabhama's harsh comments cannot be ignored, it is a call for attention on the continuing obsession with colour that needs to be addressed in the performing arts. As of this writing, Ms Satyabhama has not retracted her statement and holds firm on her original words, citing the NATYASASTRA and its description of the many requisites of "the ideal dancer". On March 30th, Ms Satyabhana was sued by Sri Ramakrishnan based on her remark and the Kerala Cantonment police have registered a case against her.

On March 27th, Kerala Kalamandalam announced that it would remove all gender disparity in admissions and welcome male students in the Mohiniattam department. They also expressed their wish to expand the curriculum to include Kuchipudi and Performance Studies in the revered institution in the near future. So, apparently, the crisis did produce a response and a landmark decision!

In an exclusive statement to NARTHAKI, Kalamandalam's Chancellor Dr Mallika Sarabhai said, "I have since my appointment, been batting for gender, caste and religion bias free education at Kalamandalam. Earlier this year a young Muslim girl joined Kathakali, as did a child from Wayanad. The Education Board has now passed a resolution that admissions will be open to all. These are small steps for major victories in making it an inclusive 21st century institution of excellence."

While most dancers were consuming all the controversies with eager curiosity, most of them were just hitting "LIKE" or "LOVE" or some latest emoji on the posts, without engaging. This needs to change. Exceptions were Kavitha Ramu and Zakir Hussain - both Bharatanatyam dancers and both working members of the Tamilnadu DMK government, who were frank and direct with their scorn of the Academy - TMK imbroglio. Mohiniattam dancers Neena Prasad, Methil Devika and Sruthi Mohan felt discouraged by negative spotlight being focused on their dance form. Neena Prasad has been chosen to receive the prestigious NRITYA KALANIDHI dance award from the Madras Music Academy in January 2025. That moment has been completely eclipsed with the current hostilities.

NARTHAKI has collated the entire time line for the ACADEMY - KRISHNA affair as well as the MOHINIATTAM Colourism controversy on our homepage. These ongoing matters will be updated on our website. So do check in for the updated information! As of now, it seems to be extending like the proverbial tail of Hanuman!


It was on March 23, 2023 that reporter Shubhangi Misra, from the online news portal THE PRINT, broke the scandal of sexual harassment on the Kalakshetra campus. It was a hugely embarrassing story for an institution of national excellence managed by the central government. The protests led by the senior students and supported by some of the teaching staff refused to die down and defied the news cycle for a full month. Now, a whole year later, the august institution, founded by Rukmini Devi Arundale, has not fully recovered from that serious incident. Yes, the perpetrators were fired, the main accused was incarcerated for a brief time, and a new director has taken over. The question I raise is about the senior students who protested. Are they being punished for their bold stance? What about the teachers who joined the students? Have they been demoted in their jobs? I hear that the Kalakshetra musical orchestra has its own share of politics. There is no back up flautist, vocalist or violinist. Have the recommendations of the Justice Kannan committee been implemented? What is the current board doing? THIS is a media story worth following. Not the current mayhem by loud protesters around a sabha and a singer!

Reporter Shubhangi Misra who broke the story a year ago, has published a follow up with worrying facts. According to the report, the protesting students were penalised for refusing to submit apology letters and denied performance opportunities in the February festival. So what then has really changed in a whole year?

1 yr on, Kalakshetra still fractured. 'Passive aggressive' jibes, no student on POSH panel

I have watched with great interest as theatre colleague Kartik Kumar released his solo standup comedy act in theatres. AANSPLAINING - a feminist monologue on the ingrained patriarchy among Indian men. It is doing roaring business at the box office.

As the standup comedy market booms all across the world, I wonder if there is an audience for imaginatively filmed dance to break into Art cinema houses. Alarmel Valli produced and featured in LASYA KAVYA which won a National Award. Malavika Sarukkai followed with THE UNSEEN SEQUENCE which enjoyed popular downloads and viewing success. Doordarshan and the National Film Archives have made several films on celebrated dancers. I have watched some great dance films but they have only been screened online on Vimeo or YouTube. One brilliant film is PINA made on the German contemporary choreographer PINA BAUSCH. There is the NETFLIX documentary titled MOVE featuring AKRAM KHAN. And then, I return again and again to the breathtaking film IBERIA by director Carlos Saura, that explored Flamenco in all its magnificence.

There have been many short films made on Indian dancers but none have had a global release. AANSPLAINING had a limited release in theatres and marks a landmark moment from the live arts to another medium. Indian dance has so much in every aspect - colour, technique, kinetic interest, costume, music, lyric, stagecraft and a grand legacy. How much can be translated onto the big screen? How can it be captured elegantly and for a global audience? Bollywood and Film dance is already a separate genre and is a global rage. But I also see how young classically trained dancers are refining their own camera and editing abilities. Several short films are available for viewing on many platforms. But on the big wide screen? Without a story? It will be interesting to see if there is a box office/business template for well-made Indian dance films for a wider audience.

With WORLD THEATRE DAY, March 27th, just behind us, what lies ahead is WORLD DANCE DAY, April 29th. Apart from the many performances and seminars that will be held around this important day, we would do well to attend to deeper and more pressing issues that are swirling around us and the impact that they will have on Indian dancers in India and in the diaspora.


We have entered that silver jubilee number! 25 years of our online presence begins on April 15th. Our small team of women cannot believe it! I still remember the day in 2000 when we turned two best-selling phone books into an online directory. Everything else grew organically, step by step. Through these decades, NARTHAKI has evolved, reflected opinions, helped cheer on emerging artistes and has been a prism through which so many of you have stayed connected.

We have also stumbled and faltered on more than one occasion but have never stopped to try to engage, discuss, argue and persist on having important conversations around dance and the arts. At a time when division and distrust seem rife, it is all the more urgent that we remind ourselves of WHY we are in the world of creation and performance!

Stay connected through our social media platforms and please listen and subscribe to this newsletter and to our podcasts on SPOTIFY and APPLE.

My colleagues - Lalitha, Sumathi, Raksha, Subhasri and Mugdha join me in saying-


Until next time,

Anita R Ratnam
Chennai / New Delhi

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