December 22, 2022
RASA: Ravi, Aditi, Shama and Ananya. That's R.A.S.A. That was the highlight for the end of the year in namma Bengaluru, a city away from the power and pelf of other metros, arrogance or aplomb of seasonal culture activities of other cities. Bengaluru is a year-around cultural destination, with something going on every week and every month. And not just dance but books festival, music, theatre, fashion, food and aero shows as well. Add, a city where ten months in a year the temperature remains around 25C with little or no necessity for an AC and one lives in heaven. No winter, no summer, just rain. When one comes down from this heaven to earth, then one has to deal with bad roads and bad civic facilities. Since my blood group is B positive, I mostly am! So, I look for and find that my glass is mostly half full.
Padmini Ravi is of the same mindset and spectrum, I suppose. The universal aunty of Malleswaram dance scene, she is most down-to-earth too. If Vimala Rangachar is the empress, Maya Rao was the Queen mother, then Padmini aunty is the quintessential princess of the dance scene of Malleswaram or Bangalore. Not only she looks royal but is endowed with a large heart as well.
She 'suffers' from a brilliant mind. It is a kind of illness, the price for which is never being content or at peace because one is so gifted that even the gods look from afar and smile over their creditable creation. Padmini Ravi taught every kid (and kind) on the block; groomed them and inspired them so much that they still follow her like little lambs. I've been seeing this in the last twenty years. Most are now grown up like Kiran and Sandhya Subramanyam and running their own dance school but they were all there, in attendance. Sathyanarayana Raju looked dressed for Christmas. He looks royal in his shiny silks and his stage sets are artistic and enhance the whole hall setting. Bangloreans love art.
She wears many hats - dancer above all else: careless in her choices, creative in her being, careful in her choreography and classy in her organization- this is Padmini Ravi. I've known many dancers in the short span of my time on earth, last 60+ years and consciously for 50+, so when I say she is among the top 10 all-time real talents and in today's parlance - an influencer! - or inspiration, then she must be something special. Let me explain how and why.
Most, I stress on most (not all), dancers are not inclined to give their all or share their art wealth in total, but Padmini Ravi unlike many others doesn't have an agenda. She is different - genius, generous, gifted. Experienced, eclectic and entertaining. She has had fun with dance. Not made it serious for effect. And she couldn't care less for how she is perceived even. She just does her own thing. And while at it, she has a ball. She created Bangalore's best art festival, the Bangalore Habba, and platformed many a talent. Of course, some of these talents have clean forgotten her later. Does she care? No. She just smiles and carries on. A real trooper. She even lost monies doing so. Any remorse? None. She just carried on dancing and making others dance.
Padmini Ravi's Bhakti
Last week she decided to pedestalize her singer of many decades, Dwaraki Krishnaswamy, who she said in her introduction was as open as she and willing to experiment. Padmini chose seven of best Bharatanatyam young talents: Preeti Sundarajan, Lakshmi Ramesh, Supriya Komandur, Shruthi Rao, Shivaranjani Harish and Sowmya Thanthri. Srinivasan Rajendran was the only male dancer and he maintained his presence well, surrounded as he was with so many gopis in the end item. Mercifully the evening was under an hour. Mercifully because when you add award and speeches then audience threshold weans off after 90 min these days. Each item was well knit, tightly structured and an aesthetic delight. The costumes were to die for. Padmini is an all- rounder.
The evening titled 'Bhakti' - though what bhakti came through a group of enthusiastic youngsters (anyone under 50 can get youth membership in prominent political parties of yore) doing mostly Tillana dovetailed with ode to Murugan and Krishna - remains debatable. Well, bhakti cannot be quantified, hence each to his/her own. While Padmini has unusual choreographic skills, to mount all girls on stage in all the items, seems repetitive, even if each was a good dancer. Why not use just three in one item, five in other and all seven in end, to build the evening? Think of audience interest, some glued to cell phone anyway. Thank God, all were of high merit and didn't smile all through - a common affliction these days - never mind the item, all are smiling even in Karuna or Bhibhatsa!
Padmini's dance learnt from guru K.J. Sarasa, star teacher to many film stars of Tamil cinema like Kamal Hasan and others, has that intrinsic film flavour and flourish of the 50s and 60s but that's hardly surprising as Sarasama was in-house staff and talent of the Vazhuvoor guru Ramaiah Pillai. He was brought to Madras dance scene via films in a big way in the 1940s by director Subrahmanyam to create dance for Tamil films. Thus, the diagonal dance prevalent in those days, was made for camera shoot, to cover maximum space on a film set, for minimum or single camera shoot. There's the same lilt, same flowering of even a Tillana. Even? Tillana comes at end of margam formatted show when a dancer has put her all in: energy, experience and exhaustion! To acquit two hours of performance then becomes the ultimate sign of training and tradition. Padmini Ravi dances to her own tune.
Tunes and words of thumri is an important component of Kathak rendition. Guru Shama Bhate danced solo on the occasion of Ananya awards to many, in an invite card where everyone was a vidwan or a vidushi. If everyone is so qualified then one wonders if it is inflation or India is really shining! Guru Shama's reputation as teacher and choreographer through Nad Roop precedes her. SNA award to her is among the more welcome one. Her abhinaya has a very busy quality about it.
Ananya is a cultural and educational organization centred again in Malleswaram and its karta dharta is one chemical engineer, who when free of making more combustible items, decided to deal with more benign art forms. He looks like a sadhu so I've dubbed him Raghavendra 'Swami'. A gentle man, he has transformed a run-down hall into a handsome, happening venue, the Seva Sadan. Seva is what he does. Awarding senior dancers like Chitra Visweswaran, Shama Bhate, Vasundhara Doraswamy, musicians Balasubramanya Sharma and Srihari Rangaswamy, he pulled out all stops and was a generous host. Starting the program 40 minutes late is not a welcome sign for those who are on time and suffer it out. First dancer could have been requested to cut short an item. Despite all this, a good time was had by all.
Aditi B.L. Shesh
All for one and one for all. That's Anuradha-Sridhar, the most amiable and gifted dance couple of Bangalore in Bharatanatyam. One sees sabhyataa in their being. Truly cultured. Their training is better than many a big institution. They bring each student to stage, only when they feel satisfied that the shishya is truly ready. Aditi B.L. Shesh is one such. From start to finish, each item was well etched, well rendered and well finished. The JSS hall could be mistaken for a mini wedding venue and the Sridhars played genuine and generous hosts.
Often what one looks for in arangetram is not the brand of the guru's school but actual art. One looks out for one more young talent, whose progress one can follow and occasionally, if truly deserving, help. It gives the feeling that Indian art and culture are safe despite the times we live in. That one in a hundred will keep the flame aglow. Aditi proved all this, thanks to her benevolent gurus. All through the 4-hour event (one hour of speeches is tad too long, even for a family affair) one had to see guru Anuradha on stage with most affectionate, motherly gaze and actor guru Sridhar in the wings, helping Aditi and blessing her. Aditi has proved she is a professional to watch.
Watching dance is a pleasure. For those few hours, one forgets bad roads, bad governance, bad energies. The goodness of art and artistes takes over. Let's end the year with hope for more of Saraswati's grace. Mangalam Bhava!
Ashish Mohan Khokar is a senior critic, author, historian, archivist and an artivist. Active in mainstream media in last 40 years of writing, teaching, filming, mentoring makes him an original voice in dance documentation field. He is devoted to Indian dance.
Written with pure bhakti and the script takes us to the abode of god with bhakti rasa. Grateful to all involved in compiling this.
- Aries Madhu (Dec 23, 2022)
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