Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bharat Natyam lacks surprise

DÉJÀ VU? YOU, TOO? Cupid’s arrows always come at the lovelorn nayika at a pree-cise angle of 45 degrees Renuka Narayanan Hindustan Times Sunday, April 2, 2006
I ’VE BEEN watching dance from the womb because my mother was a dancer and I absolutely had to learn Bharata Natyam, like brushing my teeth. But even I, the mad classicist, find most performances one big yawn today, except for the few magic-leaguers. I’m sad but not surprised that girls now prefer the bumpand-grind of Shiamak Davar or Ashley Lobo. B’Nat lacks surprise. And I think these bad habits of the dance are why it’s so boring:
CUPID’S ARROWS They always come at the lovelorn nayika (heroine) at a pree-cise angle of 45 degrees. Rukmini Devi Arundale of Kalakshetra, the pioneering dance academy set up in Madras (not Chennai) back in the ’30s, decreed they should. And the nayika always gives a little twitch when it strikes, just so.
PINING PYTs Each item is explained in a fruity, breathless voice that makes you giggle. And just how often can you endure the plaint, “O Krishna, come to me! O Lord of the sacred temple of Appalam Swamy Pappadam Perumal, you are my hero, I pine for you.” Leaves me muttering, “Get a life, girl.”
TANTRIK FAN-FAN That fan-pleat in garish orange silk teamed with a screaming pink blouse. The obscene blouse-accents in gold. The ghastly sweat patches in the armpits after twenty minutes of stomping. The trailing threads from a tatty kunjalam (fake plait). The klutzy jewellery in loud green and red from Sukra Jewellers, North Mada Street, Mylapore, Chennai. Eeuh. Go away. You offend my eyes, vulgarian.
SPEED KILLS Perhaps it’s because they know they’re up against Shiamak, Ashley and Saroj Khan. But dancers now whiz through slow, sensuous songs like how the Concorde used to break Mach 2. My fave example is actor-dancer Shobhana, the new Padmashri, whom I saw speeding madly through Kuru Yadu Nandana. It’s the sexiest song across the Big Six classical dance forms of India from Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda. Radha tells Krishna, “O Yadava hero, rub sandal paste on my burning breasts with your cooling hands.” But what we got was heartless wham-bam, with Krishna dumped unceremoniously in the kadambvan afterwards. Nooooo!
The other truly awful one was Kuchipudi guru Vempati Chinna Satyam trying to be Satyabhama. Now Satyabhama is the most fiery, wilful, imperious, luscious nayika ever invented by the Male Gaze. You need to build her up nuance by delicious nuance. To see her made to skip like a springbok in mating season…
THE WONDERBRA VERSE This one slays me each time. When they’ve done pining for the hero in the first two verses, the nayikas always get darshan in the last one. Do they show ecstasy with subtle, beautiful netra bhava (eye language)? Naah, that’s work. ‘Upliftment’ always means a cheap, easy pectoral leap. I call it the “Wonderbra Verse” and you can see it coming a mile away. Forget it. Let’s watch Indian Idol.

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