Nalanda's Buddha enlightens!
- Ashish Mohan Khokar, Bangalore

February 26, 2011

Trust Nalanda to be in the forefront of enlightened dance experiments. Its intercultural, international production on Buddha -The Enlightened One - premiered on 18th February at Rabindra Natya Hall besides the Siddhi Vinayak temple in Prabhadevi, had stampede-of-sorts when over 1500 turned up for a hall that comfortably accommodates a 1000.

A year ago, in one of her global travels, Dr. Kanak Rele, the dynamic doer for Nalanda (and by doer one means creator, lifeline, moot cause and rasion d'etre - all rolled in one) ended up in Norway and thought of bringing into Indian dance a closer cultural dialogue with this far away frozen land of fjords and ships and oil. That isolated, little backyard of Scandinavia, now in front of an economic boom thanks to all of above three (tourism, ship-building and oil!) has just over quarter of Bombay's population, 4 million (!) with land twice that of Maharashtra - amazing.

The 4 big cities of Norway are: Oslo - its capital, Trondhiem - its happening town, Bergen - a city state that for long felt it was never part of Norway but a state by itself and Stavanger - a little university town. It is the last that Kanak Rele zeroed in and the result of this intercultural collaboration was for all to see! Balletic girls trying to dance Indian way, the body lacks the natural ability to knee bend and faces don't show emotion. That apart, the production was of high standards. Generally, in the last 20 years, ever since fusion and confusion dance has developed in India owing to western dance discourse and influence and those who could not do justice to long learning and solid foundation that classical dance require, dance drama or ballet as it was called in India lost sheen.
Kanak Rele with a corps de ballet (students of Nalanda) created a polished production on Buddha and her main achievements were detailed head-dresses to suit the period (obviously she has had in-depth field studies at Ajanta Ellora); a music track of high calibre and a group that is cohesive.

Sachitananda as the Young Prince Buddha was sweetly repetitive in his arm movements and in each "kyun, kyun?" question, seeking answers. His sideways hand movements were the same and hastas opening up like flowers, not a question. Bharatanatyam talent, now guru, Deepak Mazmudar as the senior, the enlightened Buddha was tailor made for the role, although he showed too much emotion later whereas Buddha as the Enlightened One ought to have been a bit controlled. Buddha feels compassion, passion, emotion but not so uncontrolled.

Kadambari as Yashodhara was well undertaken and the end, when she reunites with Buddha who left her in search of Truth, was very touching. There were three or four occasions when tears escaped our eyes and that rarely happens and Deepak's fine impersonation of the Buddha made it so. Mara were one too many and took lots of time as the 6 of the evil forces/temptations tried to seduce Buddha while he was on path to Enlightenment and some even reduce him to tears and sorrow. Buddha was human before he became enlightened, so Deepak could not control his emotions and in places, over did himself.
Certain portions can easily be pruned and edited, and the cut-out trees looked school productionish! In classical dance the art of suggestivity is important. The trees, in this stage production, can be cut! The influence of Mohiniattam was all too evident, with good dose of Bharatanatyam. Costumes were a delight as were the lights, though from front rows, one could see glaring yellow lights backlit from upper wings, making it uncomfortable for the eyes. Mood lighting would help as Buddha is about serenity and calm.

That the DG of ICCR, H.E Shri Suresh Goel especially came to Bombay, oops Mumbai, to be at this trans-national event, shows that ICCR cares for arts and artistes. In the new DG of ICCR, there is dynamism, proactive involvement and spunk. The VC of Mumbai University, Chairman of Nalanda Dr. Kakodar and host of other dignitaries decorated the stage. Compering by Dr. Rele's granddaughter, youngster Vydehi was cute! All in all, one went away touched by the excellent production. Nalanda and its dancers deserve kudos.

Ashish Mohan Khokar travels all over India and brings to note dancers of merit, through his writings, columns and yearbook, attendance. India's reputed and widely-read dance critic, his words help dancers and audiences understand and appreciate the art of dance and the actual performance, better. /