Indian Classical

Vada Chennai Vizha subverted convention, presenting Bharatanatyam, therukoothu and parai attam on the same stage

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The second session of the festival was held at Ennore and aimed to bring the ecological significance of the location to the forefront

A narrow by-lane, lined on either side by small shops, teems with people. Only, instead of traffic chairs occupy the road: arranged row by row, at the end of which is an unassuming elevation for a stage. We are at Korukkupet’s MGR Nagar, where Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha’s Vada Chennai Vizha is underway.

Children at the Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha festival at Korukkupet on Saturday
| Photo Credit: B_VELANKANNI RAJ

The audience is an organic mix of locals who go about their daily chores (unpeturbed by what is going on) and visitors who have specifically come to celebrate the evening. And no doubt, a celebration, it is. Food stalls captained by women from the community, displaying home cooked fare, groups of children dancing unabashedly to gaana tunes belted out on stage — everything about the atmosphere screams festive.

The vizha’s deliberate attempt to subvert convention and set examples, rightly manifests itself through the line up of performances. The choice of venue is testament to the same.

This year, a lot of back and forth with the local community regarding their likes and interests was done during the curation, says Sangeetha Sivakumar, one of the volunteers. “We made sure that we don’t go and impose on them. Besides, a lot of the events were also shortened in duration,” says Sangeetha.

A bite of North

  • Atho, kozhukattai, paniyaram and beef kozhambu were some of the gems that the food stalls offered. Equipped with multiple steel plates and fairly big cauldrons, the women from the locality who are also part of the Arunodhaya trust had arrived at 5 pm to feed the crowd. Some were live counters. For instance, the Atho stall had women working almost mechanically: mixing ingredients at the speed of light, for audience and performers alike. Apart from snacks, guests were also provided with dinner fare including rotis.

The evening began with parai attam by the residents of Avvai Girls Home from Besant Nagar. Conceived as an art form performed only by men, this percussive drum is played during funerals. The parai-wielding girls, donning brightly coloured striped saris, set a powerful tone, proving that this folk form (which is often looked down on and considered inauspicious) can also be a marker of celebrations.

It is not just the girls. Amidst the crowd, a group of enthusiastic boys start grooving to the tunes of singer ‘gaana’ Muthu (and troupe), as soon as he begins.

Food stalls at Korukkupet

North Chennai’s relationship with gaana and kuthu traditions go a long way back. So, it is not surprising that the crowd visibly relates to these performances. His songs — with strong undertones that question caste hierarchy and its effect on the society — also touch upon the social discrimination that certain communities still face. Similarly, in an attempt to hone local talent, kazhiyal aatam, performed by the Arunodhaya Youth Cultural team, provides a glimpse into the folk art form which draws from traditional war tactics. On the percussion are the boys, while the girls display their martial arts skills with sticks on hand.

Bharatanatyam is not a genre that North Chennai is exposed to very often. Which is precisely why the volunteers of the festival made it a point to include it in the line up. To thunderous applause, the dancers of Indisha Fine Arts and Trust performed in three different acts. Following this, the veteran therukoothu group, Purisai Duraisami Kannappa Thambiran Parambarai Therukoothu Manram, narrated the story of Abhimanyu, through the high-energy traditional form, peppered with movements, choral interludes and song.

The greener side

  • In Ennore, the festival held on a roadside, took on a subtle role of educating people about the ecological significance of Ennore through the arts. Amrit Rao & The Madrascals’ socially aware songs, not only had children in the crowd cheering and singing along, but also passed the message across. After much discussion with the local community, silambattam, sufi songs, Kuchipudi, gaana-rap and dance took to stage, a rapt audience in tow. “The sufi songs appealed to the older crowd. We feel that they cherished that moment of nostalgia,” says Sangeetha. Meanwhile, Logan and the Black Boys had the audience grooving to rap, hip hop and gaana.

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