Indian Classical

Moving memories- The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

BENGALURU :  A while ago, dancer Ramaa Bharadvaj received a phone call from Anita Ratnam, the founder of Narthaki web-portal for classical dance. Ratnam had an idea for a video series called Taalam Talkies, which would look at classical dance in cinema by profiling renowned dancers who had a strong presence on the silver screen. When given the offer to make an episode for the same, Bharadvaj, a big movie buff herself, didn’t think twice before saying yes.

Thinking about who to make the episode on didn’t require much deliberation either. “Kamala was the first artiste of choice because after all, during Bharatnatyam’s revival era, she had been a prime catalyst in making that dance-form a household name through her performances both on stage and in cinema,” says Bharadvaj, whose work has resulted in a recently released three-episode project called Fragrant Petals – Kamala’s Natyam. 

A screenshot showing Kamala from the film 

Besides showcasing the various facets of Bharatnatyam dancer Kamala as a performer, teacher and woman, the project also highlights the cultural history of cinema and performing arts. “Kamala started dancing in films just seven years after talking pictures were introduced in India.

The early filmmakers used cinema not just for entertainment but as a crucial political and cultural tool as well, and for that, they used the aid of classical music and dances,” says Bharadvaj, who read a lot to collect data about Kamala as well as the early days of cinema.

Interestingly, Bharadvaj and her twin sister trained under the actor-dancer, and travelled all over India as principal dancers in Kamala’s troupe. They also helped as teaching assistants in her school. “So I began journaling my own recollections to add to the story. And then, to add some fun, I also had a separate note-pad of trivia that I gathered about each film,” says Bharadvaj, who is also a folk-storyteller, writer and art curator. 

Research, scripting and editing took her six weeks to put together, which she calls an offering to her mentor. “I had promised myself that I would do it all on my own with no technical help from anyone. It was challenging because I had decided on three episodes for three decades of Kamala’s film career, but I had mountainous material that I wanted to include. In fact, I still have enough material left to create two more episodes,” says Bharadvaj. 

The process was both emotional and exhilarating for her, bringing back many memories. “Today’s dancers are caught up in their own work with almost a narcissistic restlessness. With Covid-19 pushing everything to online forum, the rush for attention has got more maddening,” she says. “These masters are our arts-ancestors. If we forget them, we forget a part of our history. Through the Taalam Talkies series, we hope to call attention to these maestros, and do it in an enjoyable way.”Fragrant Petals: Kamala’s Natyam can be viewed on the YouTube channels of Ramaa Bharadvaj and Narthaki Online

Down nostalgia lane
Looking back at her dance journey and tutelage under Kamala, Bharadvaj recalls how someone once told her father, “Dance is for those from wealthy families. People like you should not bother with it.” She says, “My sister and I were not from a rich-family, and this prevalent attitude would have ended our dance career, had it not been for Kamala.” She taught the sisters without taking any fees, gave them her own costumes to wear, took them on performance tours, and even paid them for performances. “Even my Kuchipudi training was a gift from Kamala. She took us to Vempatti Chinna Sathyam and requested him to teach us. We never paid any fees for that either. I think she took take care of that too.” 

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