Duration: 00:14:48; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 38.309; Saturation: 0.075; Lightness: 0.417; Volume: 0.202; Cuts per Minute: 12.488; Words per Minute: 72.158
Summary: Tana Bana was a popular weekly cultural magazine commissioned by PTI-Television for almost 100 episodes between 1989 and 1992. It was produced and anchored by popular TV personality Sashi Kumar, who went on, in 1993, to set up Asia’s first regional language TV Channel, ‘Asianet’.
This 15-minute feature on Chandralekha was filmed in Chennai in 1992. The text/commentary for it was originally written in English by Sadanand Menon. It was translated into Hindi for the purposes of national broadcast.
At a presentation during the launch of pad.ma in 2009, Sadanand speaks of this Tana Bana feature as being a "build-up of the 'archive in an archive in an archive' kind of idea". Chandra recreates a sequence from her choreography Navagraha (1972) for this recording in 1992. Some excerpts from a Doordarshan recording of her production Lilavati, shot in 1990, are also used, while there is material shot specially for the feature too.
The reason for including this in Pad.ma is that it is perhaps the only available copy of this feature. PTI-TV wound up by 1994 and all their recordings and tapes have vanished without a trace. The present version was originally a direct-from-TV VHS recording. Around 1999, the fungus-affected tape was cleaned and copied on to a DVD by Krissy Biernacki, an American dance student who spent almost a year in Chennai and helped Chandra convert some of the tapes to DVD. As the sole surviving copy of the original, it now has both an archiving history and historic value.
For the opening sequence of the episode, Chandra performed the stylised ‘Suryanamaskar’ to ‘Suryamurthe’, one of Muthuswami Dikshitar’s ‘Navagraha’ kritis, which she had performed twenty years earlier, in her landmark 1972 production ‘Navagraha’. The deep Sanskrit kritis, sung by B.Krishnamurthi, with nattuvangam provided by Chandra’s Guru Kancheepuram Ellappa Pillai, Veena accompaniment by Vidushi Vidya Shankar and mridangam by T.V.Goapalakrishnan, was specially recorded for this performance at the HMV studios, Chennai, by the well known ‘HMV Raghu. The charismatic male dancer Kamadev was Chandra’s partner in ‘Navagraha’. Chandra performed this 7-minute-long yoga-based piece to ‘Suryamurthe’ once again in 1984, at the ‘East-West Dance Encounter’ at the Tata Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai, which marked her return to dance and choreography after a break of over 12 years.
The ‘Surya’ dance for the Tana-Bana’ episode was shot within Chandra’s ‘Mandala Theatre’. This theatre was renovated and inaugurated in 2008, on the occasion of Chandra’s second death anniversary of December 30. It has now been renamed ‘Chandra-Mandala’.
From this tradition of synthesis, we take you now to the shores of Madras, for an encounter with the rebel dancer-choreographer, Chandralekha.
Tana Bana was a popular weekly cultural magazine commissioned by PTI-Television for almost 100 episodes between1989 and 1992. It was produced and anchored by popular TV personality Sashi Kumar, who went on, in 1993, to set up Asia's first regional language TV Channel, 'Asianet'. From 2000, he is Chairman, Media Development Foundation, which runs the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.
This 15 minutes feature on Chandralekha was filmed in 1992, in Chennai. The text/commentary for it was originally written in English by Sadanand Menon, who was those days Arts Editor, 'The Economic Times', New Delhi. He also sat in on the editing process. The text was translated into Hindi for the purposes of national broadcast.
The reason for including this in Pad.ma is that it is perhaps the only copy available of the feature. PTI-TV wound up by 1994 and all their recordings and tapes have vanished without a trace. The present version was originally a direct-from-TV VHS recording. Around 1999, the fungus-affected tape was cleaned and copied on to a DVD by Krissy Biernacki, an American dance student who spent almost a year in Chennai and helped Chandra convert some of the tapes to DVD. As the sole surviving copy of the original, it now has both an archiving history and historic value.
The other interesting factor is that while for much of the episode material was freshly shot, the producer also relied on excerpts from existing archival tapes of Chandra's earlier productions like 'Prana' (1990).
It is also significant that for the opening sequence of the episode, Chandra performed the stylised 'Suryanamaskar' to 'Suryamurthe', one of Muthuswami Dikshitar's 'Navagraha' kritis, which she had performed twenty years earlier, in her landmark 1972 production 'Navagraha'. The deep Sanskrit kritis, sung by B.Krishnamurthi, with nattuvangam provided by Chandra's Guru Kancheepuram Ellappa Pillai, Veena accompaniment by Vidushi Vidya Shankar and mridangam by T.V.Goapalakrishnan, was specially recorded for this performance at the HMV studios, Chennai, by the well known 'HMV Raghu. The charismatic male dancer Kamadev was Chandra's partner in 'Navagraha'. Chandra performed this 7-minutes yoga-based piece to 'Suryamurthe' once again in 1984, at the 'East-West Dance Encounter' at the Tata Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai, which marked her return to dance and choreography after a break of over 12 years.
The 'Surya' dance for the Tana-Bana' episode was shot within Chandra's 'Mandala Theatre'. This theatre was renovated and inaugurated in 2008, on the occasion of Chandra's second death anniversary on December 30. It has now been renamed 'Chandra-Mandala'.
'Surya ko Namaskar'
(Paying obeisance to the Sun)
This posture is taken from Navagraha, a dance composition by the rebel classical dancer Chandralekha. Navagraha was based on a musical composition by Muthuswami Dikshita. Chandralekha had composed it in 1972. And from here began, for the first time ever, the brilliant choreography which incorporates principles of Yoga into Bharatanatyam. She deviated from the traditional teachings of her guru K Pillai, and began to look for newer forms of expression, within the framework of classical dance. This was no great challenge for the defiant Chandralekha.
Yeah, I learnt from the masters or the... great masters traditional way of dance, traditional style or kharana, what you call, but already there was a tremendous difference between the way the gurus thought and the way I thought. The way they lived their life and the way I lived my life. So already there is a tremendous difference in our consciousness. And any art, if we want to keep it alive, it has to relate to time, space. It's a product of time, space.
So I don't think traditions are for museums, or they can be fossilized, or they just be kept as some kind of objects of art to be... to be glittering objects. I feel that traditions have to be tested in the light of the sun, you have to hold them up against and see...
So, when I thought of Bharatanatyam form, I like Bharatanatyam form, it has terrific energy, it has power, it has conceptual.. conceptually it is so strong... it tells you that your body is the centre of the world.
Drawing the 'pulli kolam' or 'dot kolam' with rice flour was another everyday morning activity Chandra enjoyed. She was an 'expert' and had a wide repertoire of kolams of all sorts of design. There was a period in the early 1970s, which stretched over two or three years, when she would occupy herself the entire day just trying out kolams and filling notebook after notebook. She even went on to devise a basic grid which could be used as a pedagogical tool for literacy and alphabetisation. She also wrote extensively on the kolam and saw it as major agency of creativity of women.
My own belief is that Chandra's prolixity in dance choreography too was a result of playing for years with the kolam, trying to understand the placement of dots and movement of lines around it. It was a spatial training that became a resource for her stage work.
The little dog who darts across is Kuttanam. He was not our dog. We were his people. He had walked into the campus as a little puppy and went on to become a great friend of all the dancers who came to work with Chandra. After rehearsals, he would usually walk down the dancers to the bus stand or their homes nearby. He never missed an opportunity those days to jump into the frame of a still or movie camera. At the ripe age of 14 or so, he waited for us to return from a tour to Taiwan in 2002 and peacefully passed away at our doorstep.
There's lot of excitement in learning something new. You are a student.. a seeker.. and the world opens up for you when you are a seeker.
When I was learning dance just the excitement of learning was there. Once you learn, then what do you do with it? You can go on refining it, ok, you can go on perfecting it, ok. I couldn't go on dancing the same solo Bharatanatyam dance forever. That was for sure that I had to stop, I had to reflect, and I refused to be mechanized in life by anything.
I never wanted my one day to be mechanized as any other day, and that is, I think all my life I've sought very consciously that kind of a.. as a way of life.
You dance Radha and Krishna
Later I began to see the whole idiocy of it. In terms of my own life... what does the butter sequence mean to me? It doesn't mean a thing to me. In fact it looked so ridiculous, that every time I had to dance that, please. Where Gopika and Radha are churning the butter, and taking out the butter, and then putting it in a pot and putting the pot high up, and Krishna comes, and then he licks up the butter and all that. I thought the whole thing was... it had nothing to do with me.
It was mindlessness to reproduce that kind of a thing as art. And if dance was going to mechanize you, then it wasn't for me. I had to distance myself and see its meaning
So I needed that distance for reflection, and so when I came back again to dance, I started right from the beginning...
...dance exercises, or these were called the grammar of dance or these were called the theories of dance, I began to see the circuits of energy in those areas. And I began to see the meaning.
Today if some kind of recognition has come to me, it is not sudden... kind of a drop from heaven. It has been a result of almost thirty years of day-to-day struggle.
...But basically at various time, all the time trying to find values, your concerns for what's happening around you, what's happening to you, what's happening to the body. It's not just dance, but to the whole immediate world around you what's happening all around you, and these concerns, somehow they come together and coalesce in your work. So, '84 onwards I began to... it has been a continuous work... several productions, five productions in which this quest has been continuous ongoing kind of work, the first work was Angika, about the body, about rejection of cosmetic content, rejection of religious god-goddess content, and exploring how Naatashastras sees the body and relating it to other physical disciplines like martial arts, what are the principles learnt from nature, from animals, from birds and animals, and principles learned in various physical disciplines
In the next work, 'Namaskar', which you will see, again it's the potential of the body, what is the power of the body, what is the dignity of body, is Namaskar just a genuflection? You dive at somebody's feet and you just go limp
...all your body, like eight limbs, will show the dignity. What is the dignity of the body, and that's what I tried to explore in this concept of Namaskar.
In Lilavati it was a poetic concept. You take a text like mathematics text. And how do you relate it to dance?
So in the next work Praana and Shree, again it's a quest for spine, and the loss of spine - spine becomes a metaphor for freedom in this work, and how the loss of spine and the reclamation of spine can be a theme, can be a quest, a search, and through that you go to areas like self-respect, identity, dignity.
I believe in working with a group, making relationships; I do not like to have power over people.
I don't like people diving at my feet, for example. I have no illusions about making institutions in this country.
...having bureaucratic power to establish that sort of a thing. Because finally we have to go on breaking those institutions, because they come to sea. They all become so decadent. And I would say that my statement to this kind of a cultural bureaucracy would be who never moved a little finger, who never did any kind of help for me, my statement to them has been 'I exist in spite of you', and I feel that artists need to have that kind of a dignity at...
Hindi voice over