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Felicitations to Swapnasundari and Janardhanan
- V.P. Dhananjayan

December 14, 2013

When I was the convener of the Natya Kala Conference in 1995- 96, Krishna Gana Sabha audience gave the best lecture demonstration merit award to both Swapnasundari and A. Janardhanan. After that, it has taken all these years for them to be elevated to Nritya Choodamani and Acharya Choodamani. My hearty congratulations to both of them.

Swapnasundari is an all rounder with proficiency in Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi natyam, Karnataka sangeetam, Telugu literature and now a research scholar who has brought the obscure Vilasini Natyam of Andhra Pradesh into limelight. Both Shanta and I have been her ardent admirers since 1980s when we saw her in Delhi performing in Jhamkar Theater of Kamani auditorium. Her mother Sarala Rao was a great scholar and musicologist and singer, who was instrumental in us getting a break in ICCR for which we are ever thankful to her. I do not know how many of you have heard Swapna singing along with Dr. Balamuralikrishna and the cassette recoding of their rendering of padams and javalis, and Annamayya kritis. It is a revelation to all the natya fraternity and Carnatic musicians. In her youthful heydays, she was vibrant on stage with sparkling footwork, both in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. Her abhinaya surpasses many legends of the past and present. So Nritya Choodamani is a most befitting honor bestowed on Swapnasundari.

This year's Acharya Choodamani is bestowed upon yet another stalwart in the field of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam, equally proficient in both styles of classical performing arts. Janardhanan's illustrious father, Guru Asan Chandu Panickar was known for his extraordinary capacity to teach and train even an average artiste into a master of art. This great guru brought me to Kalakshetra and made me what I am today. The same way, I can justifiably be proud that both Kunhiraman (yet another great guru from Kalakshetra) and I brought Janardhanan to Kalakshetra in 1958 much against the wishes of his own father who wanted his boy to be a schoolteacher in the village. Janardhanan's inborn histrionic talent came forth with his entry into the portals of Kalakshetra and he became the most confident and close associate of Rukmini Devi who was the mentor to all of us.

He has the proud privilege of having the longest close association with Rukmini Devi. Hence the institution is now taking advantage of his extraordinary capacity as an Acharya to revive the original compositions of Rukmini Devi's monumental productions in Kalakshetra. I compliment Janardhanan for his long association with his alma mater and his continuing to serve the institution with utmost sincerity and total dedication even after his formal retirement from the post of Principal. I take pride in saying that his father Asan Chandu Panickar put him under my care until I left the institution, of course supported by my colleague Balagopal (another great artiste trained by Janardhanan's father) and before I left Kalakshetra, Janardhanan took over all my main roles in the Kalakshetra productions. He had the great opportunity of specializing in Kathakali mukhabhinaya from none other than the legend Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, also a senior disciple of Janardhanan's father, which brought a new dimension to his histrionic ability. Apart from being a superlative performer on stage, handling all sorts of characters with aplomb, Janardhanan has imbibed the choreographic acumen from Rukmini Devi and his own father. This teacher par excellence deserves to be an Acharya Choodamani.

It is not easy for the sabhas to conduct any performance of music concerts or natya performances without the support of big and small commercial houses or big corporate companies. In 1985 when I was the recipient of the Nritya Choodamani award, my acceptance speech was printed and distributed to a record crowd. In my speech, I pointed out that Chennai has the habit of free culture and people are reluctant to buy tickets for classical arts. I gave the idea of corporate houses helping the sabhas with liberal sponsorships and support art and artistes, substituting for the kings who had been real connoisseurs / patrons of art. Though I was criticized initially, the idea caught up with the sabhas. Now we see many corporate houses come forward, generously supporting sabhas during the December season. We do appreciate their generosity. But at the same time I do suggest, the sponsors should also keep a check on these receiving cultural bodies, how much of their sponsorship money is used to remunerate professional artistes. We do not know whether the organizations understand or realize the problems of professionals in the field of Bharatanatyam and other classical performing arts, about the expenses involved in putting up a show.

A simple solo Bharatanatyam performance costs not less than Rs.30,000 to Rs.50,000 depending upon the professionals involved and for a simple group production, it costs not less than one lakh to two lakhs (again depending upon the number of artistes and stage technicalities involved). In comparison to cultural organizations in the neighboring States who do pay the artistes well, Tamilnadu, especially Chennai, has a negative reputation of not paying professional artistes adequately in spite of being the world hub of art and culture. This trend should change with the liberal help of big corporate houses probably sponsoring the programs of the professional groups and paying them directly their required fee for that day's performance/presentation.

Bharatanatyam guru VP Dhananjayan is the director of Bharatakalanjali in Chennai.

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