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Sthayi Bava and Hollywood
- Deepa Mahadevan, CA

February 7, 2005
There exists a strong belief in the purist's mind that the Natya Shastra is as relevant in content and applicability, to Dhandayudhapani's Navaragamalika varnam as it is to Coppola's cinematic depiction of American Mafia in the early 20th century.

I would say that there is truth in the purist's thought.

To elaborate, all performing arts commence with one common agenda - to communicate a sentiment or theme to the audience.

To draw a parallel in the cinema world, a movie maker embarks on his cinematic journey by first defining the emotional thread of his story - be it love, tragedy, horror etc.

What does our filmmaker do? In pure Natya Shastra terms, he decides the Sthayi Bava of his story. Sthayi Bava can be defined as a permanent mental state. It resides predominantly in a presentation. It is not overpowered by other mental states but is reinforced by them. Thus like a dancer, even the filmmaker decides the movie's Sthayi Bava and paints the story's canvas around it.

He sets his scenes, dialogues, cast and everything around this dominant emotion. Well, that does not mean that the love story is only about love, love and more love.

A love story might draw on transient emotions or Vyabachari Bavas such as comedy (haasyam), sorrow (shoka), etc. Vyabachari Bavas are temporary mental states that break the monotony and give richness and variety to the presentation. The Vyabachari Bavas are used as effective tools in emphasizing the dominant emotion of love.

Let's take any film and analyse this. Any love story of the recent times, say Roja by Mani Ratnam has as its Sthayi Bava - Singara or love. However, the director paints the canvas with Haasyam (humor), Shokam (sadness), Veera (valor) etc.

One more example could be a horror movie like Exorcist. The dominant mood in that movie is fear (Bayanaka). However, the filmmaker takes you through disgust (Bheebatsa), shock or surprise (Vismaya) etc to convey the dominant emotion effectively.

It is interesting to note that the contrasting emotion of the transient moods to that of the original mood, itself sometimes helps the viewer to assimilate the dominant mood better.

This is what a dancer does in her performance too. For instance, any nayaka- nayaki varnam would have the dominant mood as Singara. However, the heroine tells her story using other transient moods like sorrow, anger, surprise etc.

The goal of any art is to create the desired sentiment or Rasa in the audience using various techniques. Every art we see around us uses the technique of Sthayi Bava and Vyabachari Bavas in some degree to create the desired sentiment.

Any theory becomes more acceptable as its applicability becomes universal and transcends man made boundaries. I wish to conclude by stating that the Natya Sastra is indeed a treatise whose applicability is still fresh and transcends time and space.

Deepa Mahadevan resides in Fremont, California. She has been performing Bharatanatyam for the past twenty years and is a disciple of guru Usha Srinivasan.

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