Navya and Kavya at Nishagandhi
Text & pics: Hareesh N. Nampoothiri

February 13, 2014

Nishagandhi Festival is the flagship annual cultural event organized by the Department of Tourism, Govt. of Kerala, focusing on the Indian classical art forms. The organizers promote the festival as seven magical evenings that showcase the beauty and grandeur of Indian classical dance and music. The festival had celebrity dancers Navya Nair and Kavya Madhavan in the prime slots on the opening and concluding days of the festival. Both of them started performing classical dance from their childhood and had won many youth festival titles during their school days. Apart from that, their expertise in performing classical dance forms in a festival adhering to classicism is rather doubtful as they proved through their performances here at Nishagandhi.

Navya Nair, on the opening day of the festival, started with 'Ganesha Pushpanjali' in praise of Lord Ganesha, composed by Thrissur Janardanan in raga Abhogi and in adi tala. The Simhendramadhyamam varnam composed by Madurai Muralidharan praising goddess Meenakshi of Madurai formed the central piece of the recital. The slaying of Mahishasura, the oft performed episode in any Devi Stuthi, was the main theme on which she elaborated. Navya couldn’t make that kind of an impression with her flawed footsteps and aesthetically less pleasing movements. Moreover, her abhinaya often looked cinematic making it even less appealing. Her guru RLV Pradeep Kumar joined her in the presentation of the varnam but that too couldn’t really make any difference.

"Enna thavam seidanai..." (Kapi / adi), a composition of Papanasam Sivan was the next piece. Navya tried to act out the pranks of little Krishna and his interactions with Yashoda, but her approach was pretty ordinary and ended up being far from impressive. The concluding piece was a thillana set in raga Amritavarshini. With Kottayam Jamaneesh on vocal, Anish K Vasudevan on mridangam, Kottayam S Hariharan on violin and Maya Varma on veena along with RLV Pradeep Kumar and RLV Shibu on nattuvangam, the dancer had ample support from her team of accompanying members.

Navya Nair & RLV Pradeep Kumar

Kavya Madhavan

The concluding day saw Kavya Madhavan, yet another actor from the Malayalam film industry presenting Bharatanatyam. If Navya tried to stick to the Bharatanatyam repertoire and eventually failed, Kavya’s presentation hardly had any resemblance to the original dance form. The dancer made an unconventional entry along with her co-dancers – one carried a decorated umbrella over her while others imitated a procession. Kavya chose to perform Oothukkadu Venkatasubbaiyer's "Aadu meikum Kanne..." in Sahana as her next item. The folk kind of song was an apt pick for Kavya's style, which many a time resembled folk / semi-classical dance done in a Bharatanatyam costume.

The central piece of Kavya's performance was the dance adaptation of the poem titled 'Krishna! Nee enne ariyilla' (Krishna! You don't know me) by Sugathakumari. The poem is about a gopi who stayed back at home looking after her family. She never followed Krishna everywhere seeking his attention, like other gopis. And now Krishna is about to start his journey to Mathura and all are out to have a last glimpse. Staying at her hut, the nayika wonders whether Krishna would know her. To her surprise, the chariot stops for a moment in front of her hut and Krishna gives a transcendental glance, making her believe that Krishna did know her as well.

There is no doubt that the poem is very touching and the nayika is very unique. But acting out the complete poem line by line might not be the best way to present the nayika in Bharatanatyam format. Kavya's over acting and highly melodramatic approach hardly did any justice to the gopi in the poem. To make it short, the idea was good but the execution was far from appreciable. She along with her team continued with “Aigiri Nandini...” in which the poor Mahishasura again got slayed! The other members were also seen presenting a group piece in between.

Rendering a poem in Malayalam for a Bharatanatyam recital had its own challenges and Nandakumar, the vocalist, was not at ease as he used to be. RLV Anand (nattuvangam), Kalamandalam Kiran Gopinath (mridangam), Sangeeth Mohan (violin), Arun (veena) and Raghunandan (flute) formed the music ensemble.

The organizers were keen to arrange the best facilities, succeeded in bringing the audience and even streamed the events live through their website. Everything is fine, but as far as the dance segment of the festival is concerned, they messed up the most important thing – the selection of the artists! The organizers seem to have high hopes about the festival and intend to make it gain international repute. If that is the case, then it will be better if they could bring in true talents of respective dance forms rather than arranging dance shows of popular actors from the film industry.

On a side note, there is a small request to those who photograph these events in Thiruvananthapuram. Please learn to respect the art form, the performer and the audience. Kindly be aware that the dancers are performing for the rasikas in the first place, not for the photographers. The photographers standing in front of the stage completely blocking the view of the audience, was a real disgrace to anyone who is serious about dance photography.           

Hareesh N Nampoothiri is a visual design consultant by profession and a lover of classical art forms. Being an ardent follower of Kathakali, he conceptualized and directed a documentary on Kathakali titled 'Thouryathrikam,' which introduces the nuances of Kathakali to the common man. Writing and photography are his other passions.