The Unseen Sequence: The celebration of an artist
- Rakesh Konni

January 14, 2014

‘The Unseen Sequence’ is a documentary in which the art of cinema explores the art of Bharatanatyam through dancer Malavika Sarukkai. The director Sumantra Ghosal takes us through the dance journey of Malavika interwoven with a subplot about the transformation of devadasi tradition into a court entertainment and then into Bharatanatyam of today.

The film opens with the footage of Malavika’s dance offering in front of the idol at the Chidambaram Temple on March 6, 2012 to mark the celebration of her 40 years of public performances. In this sequence, she dances to the verses of Shivashtakam by Adi Sankara. In the documentary, which is narrated in first person, Sumantra Ghosal takes us through several outstanding choreographies of Malavika. The inclusion of a bird in the cage in a traditional piece “Nee matale emayanura,” ‘Shakthi Shaktiman’ inspired by the images and sounds of the city of Banaras, ‘Mahishasuramardhini’ with the portrayal of many hands inspired by the temple sculptures, to name a few. But the most beautiful one was the specially made footage (in black and white) of Thimmakka, a choreography inspired from the real life of a village lady who spent her life planting banyan trees in her village, performed in the midst of trees with the sound of the jungle in the background.

Celebrating 40 years of public performance at the Chidambaram temple

Explaining the importance of hastas in Bharatanatyam
(Pics courtesy: cinematixfilms, The Unseen Sequence)

Malavika, who trained under Guru K. Kalyanasundaram of the Tanjavur School and Guru Rajaratnam Pillai of the Vazhuvoor School, studied abhinaya from Guru Kalanidhi Narayanan and Odissi from Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. The film had a few bytes taken from carefully chosen individuals like her mother Saroja Kamakshi, Kalanidhi Narayanan, Guru K. Kalyanasundaram, Madhavi Mudgal, Mythili Prakash and others. It also featured some archival footage and rare photographs of the dancer. In the story of evolution of the dance form, Sumantra narrates the debates on abolition of devadasi system that happened in early 20th century and about the contributions of icons like Rukmini Devi Arundale and T Balasaraswathi.

While a good dancer enacts the character on stage, a great dancer recreates the space and takes the audience to an imaginary place where the character is placed. In Malavika’s own words: “The body moves with that intelligence of understanding the context of the poetry, understanding the emotions, understanding the character. With that intelligence one can create choreography which pushes boundaries and stretches forms.” Sumantra Ghosal explores this cerebration of an artist, who pushed all the conventional boundaries through her sheer imagination and thorough knowledge rooted in tradition.

The Unseen Sequence is about an artist who didn’t give up her dream, who found her freedom in dance. It’s about an artist who did all her exploration in dance, and whose life itself is dance. And Sumantra Ghosal perfectly captured the journey of this great dancer in the structure of cinema to make it a must watch for every art lover.

The documentary (trailer: was screened at Bangalore International Centre on January 10, 2014. Following the screening, there was a short session of interaction with Malavika Sarukkai and Sumantra Ghosal.

Rakesh Konni is a lover of classical dance forms and music. Writing and photography are his passions.