Indian Classical

Bharatanatyam exponent Malavika Sarukkai delineates the dualities

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Based on the Bhagwat Gita, in “The Battle Within”, Bharatanatyam exponent Malavika Sarukkai explores the constant tussle between confusion and clarity

Malavika Sarukkai’s art has often transcended the boundaries and grammars of Bharatanatyam and come to represent a wholesome interpretation of some of the most complex philosophical texts. She does not transcend these boundaries because they limit her, rather, it is striking to see how much more Bharatanatyam is capable of when it comes to truly be expressional. In her latest production called “The Battle Within”, Sarukkai undertakes the enormous task of rendering a dramatic interpretation inspired by the Bhagavat Gita. A creative work that works within and without the structures of Bharatanatyam, Sarukkai says that it is also a product (and process) of her own journey as a dancer and choreographer. “I try to reflect on where I am today. Bharatanatyam is singular, in a way, which is why I have called this a dramatic interpretation because it is not a margam or the rendering of two or three “items”. The overall patterns of Bharatanatyam work on different terrain. I want to say I went ahead with an intuition,” says Sarukkai.

The process, she says, has been a staggering one, wherein she explores the dualities of humankind through Arjuna and Krishna played by Sarukkai herself. The landscape itself has been treacherous and a deeply confusing one for her. “It has been full of high intensities, like you would climb atop a Himalayan peak and all you see are more peaks! There is a crisis in the beginning leading to further crises. Playing the two characters together is something I found daunting,” she adds. But Gita as a text is not new to her, and it was almost as if it was lingering in the background through her life, through her mother. Often, her mother would read passages to her and discuss the philosophy of the Gita with Sarukkai. A concluding thought she arrived at was this: “how do we become the right actor and take the right action?”

One wonders why she chose to play both characters herself.

“I think ‘intention’ is a terribly critical word for me. I find there is a constant tussle between confusion and clarity, that even if one finds clarity for a brief passing moment, one loses it easily too. It is the predicament of human life. When I began to explore the emotions of Arjuna, I understood that Krishna was not merely the charioteer of the vehicle but also Arjuna’s inner self. For instance, Arjuna has seen Krishna as both beautiful and terrible. He sees the vishwaroopam, his glory and undergoes a moment of vismaya or magic. But then, he decides to go into the battle anyway as the vengeful warrior. The revelation here is that one does not immediately transform the moment one sees the truth,” says Sarukkai.

Simply put, the battle of Kurukshetra is a battle of the self with the ego, the demonic and divine forces within oneself. Often, such works of art become extraordinarily taxing on the artiste’s mind too, and Sarukkai was not an exception. She claims that as the work progressed, there were moments of questions and doubts that crept into her mind, which she had to consistently resolve before taking a step further.

She says, “There were moments when I would feel completely disconnected and moments when it all came together. If I knew how much it would demand from me, I would have taken a few steps back because I have never done anything so raw and concentrated. These emotions were/are fierce, terrifying but also funneled.”

Personal discourse

Besides the obvious difficulty of playing two characters, a major one has been the different energy levels she has had to switch between. She also sees the two as masculine/feminine, self/ego, conscience/desires and the many other binaries of mankind, which often get blurred too. The discourse itself became predominantly personal for the artist. “Do we go beyond the Bhagavat Gita apart from looking at Arjuna as the warrior and Krishna as God? I do not think we do. To me, this resonates with the kind of chaotic mess that we are in and whether we are really capable of changing ourselves. Krishna is the moral compass here and our conscience,” adds Sarukkai.

In a highly stylised form, “The Battle Within” integrates visual inputs on 3D screens, extensive sound and light effects alongside Sarukkai’s choreography. She has collaborated with artist Sumantra Ghosal for the creation of the piece. The sound and light design are by Sai Shravanam and Niranjan Gokhale respectively, music by Murali Parthasarathy and costume by Sandhya Raman.

“The Battle Within” will be staged at Kamani Auditorium, March 6, 7 p.m.

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