Rama, Shama, Kama

 Rama, Shama, Kama

Ram… Rama…Ramayeti dominated the cultural eco system last month. With the official opening of the Ram lalla temple at Ayodhya, many artistes made a beeline to visit and have the chance to perform there. Was is to get political or media eyeballs or just sheer devotion, or both, only they can say. Each to own.

Rama in dance today means Vaidyanathan, a role model dancer, teacher, choreographer organiser, bahu, mother, daughter and more. Bahu to a senior Bharatanatyam dancer of Delhi late guru Saroja Vaidyanathan, Rama is a dancer of note today in the Bharatanatyam field. Teacher to many, including those coming from far. Choreographer of fine works that give a new dimension to Bharatanatyam. Organiser of special focus events like the  recent all-male dancers’ Festival in Delhi or her three year convenorship of the prestigious Natya Kala Conference for the Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai. Mother to two daughters – Dakshina and Sannidhi – both artistes. Daughter to an Army man and mother who was a fan of Yamini Krishnamurthy, under whose tutelage Rama got her excellent foundation.

Perfectionist Rama Vaidyanathan; Pic credit: Suresh Babu

Today Rama Vaidyanathan ranks as one of the top three Bharatanatyam dancers of the country. It is my research and theory that in dance in most forms, every generation has had thousands who learnt and hundreds who  performed but only a very few remain as benchmark of the field as top one two three imaginary slots starting with say in Bharatanatyam it is Bala, Rukmini, Shanta Rao then next came Kamala, MK Saroja, Vyju then came Yamini, Sonal, Padma then Valli, Samson, Sarrukai and now Rama – she has really no parallel. I can’t muster two other names in her generation that stand a candle to her. She stands alone and far ahead of her contemporaries who have fallen by the way side.  Rama’s strength lies in being both a soloist and a group choreographer and a leader. In her recent work Pratibodhana (the awakening) seen in Bangalore for the mammoth AIM (where Veena Murthy’s magnum opus Silpadikaram was premiered with a cast of 40), one could see Rama’s distinct language in dance (create anew while maintaining the grammar of the form), her own imprint (patterns, group synergy) and aesthetics (understated, soothing not screaming). Kashi took one to Kashi and indeed the underlining construct was Ganga, a river that both gives and takes, life and death. Raas with Krishna’s murali as the leitmotif was happy-making and on the eve of Holi, invoking the spirit of the festival.

Earlier in the month, she hosted 25+ male soloists in Delhi and showcased them. What was the need for her to do this? She helps other talents come forth. Not just her students. While all 25 didn’t have professional experience or quality or potential, the few who stood out as potential stars of the future in each form were Washim Raja in Kuchipudi, a student of Vanashree Rao. Kathakaar Gaurav Bhatti, a student of Aditi Mangaldas. Akshara Tekchandani, also Kathak and Himanshu Shrivastava, Bharatanatyam a student of Rama Vaidyanathan.  Others who showed potential were Pritam Das, Nilaya Sen and Anand, all students of Rama Vaidyanathan. Detailed review on www.narthaki.com under my Dance Matters column ( I take pride in the longest -serving columnist/contributor to narthaki for 25 years now! Hint, hint this column may too continue as long the portal does!) so I want repeat here. It is rare a good dancer is a good teacher too. Or choreographer. Or institution leader or parent or bahu! Is Rama really one person?

Potential star Washim Raja

One person makes a difference. Shama tai (if bhen is the operative word in Gujarat then Tai is in Maharashtra) is a senior Kathak talent of Pune. Bhate. A guru, institution-builder, choreographer, mother, bahu of the legendary guru Rohini Bhate. Shama Bhate is academic and a deep professional. What does that mean? It means someone who understands aesthetics, music (shishya of taalguru pandit Suresh Talwalkar), costumes, lights and dance. She also has trained many in the last decade. She is the reason my Pune connection started by inviting me for a lecture series 10 years ago. My module for many universities, with rare dance films, was such a hit that it went from city to city, country to country and even a senior, senile Sunil, a PR agent of dance of yore, rushed to Pune to learn how to do it! He was maha jealous of me: my lineage, looks and life! I never tom tom my national outreach and international work  but he made it his life’s mission to put me down. Being well brought up (read sanskara),  I always showed surface level courtesy to him. Unevolved, low grade people often mistake good manners and  respect for weakness, then the Sher-e-Punjab roars in me and the mild, genial Tamil genes take a back seat! It’s all cultural. One doesn’t realise, not just our DNA acts up but our cultural moorings too.

Pune guru Shama Bhate; Pic credit: Ashish Khokar

So, today when we put together the first-ever grand book on the dance-scene of and on Pune, the attenDance Pune special (www.attendance-india.com), guest edited by Kathakaar Neha Muthiyan, the credit goes to all involved but mostly guru Shama Bhate. Without her, I wouldn’t have had a serious Pune connect or got to like Pune or visited it so often. Once she invited me, others who had known me from Delhi days started too like Sucheta Chapekar Bhide, Bharartanatyam’s best there. She has  thousands of students in Maharashtra, through franchise system her daughter Arundhati runs ably. My real Pune connection goes to 1970s when its best known theatre giant Pula (PL Deshpande) used to come and stay with us when on official visits to Delhi. He was then the Vice Chair of Sangeet Natak Akademi. A great friend of my father’s, he would talk loudly, laugh a lot and was the most generous person we knew from this land of Marathi manoos!

AttenDance Pune Special; Pic credit: Ashish Khokar

Kama not as in lust but Kama Deva the handsomest of Kuchipudi dancers of yore. Washim Raja has that quality of in dance.  Striking stage presence. Tall and stately. Clear features. Kamadeva was the star of the seventies and very popular abroad. He also teamed up with a “failed” Bharatanatyam dancer called Chandralekha, in her first group work – Navagraha. Failed because she just didn’t make the grade as a soloist and coloured her hair white to look striking when everyone dyed it black! Being Guju she knew how to market herself. I’m born in Baroda, so there’s nothing personal about it. She then reinvented herself and with fair winds blowing from Germany,  she created a niche for herself as an avante garde choreographer. She was brilliant in that and created ever lasting works like Sri, Leela, Yantra, mantra tantra!

There’s so much history in our culture that one lifetime is short to even study, leave alone fathom and write. I am trying…

Gold standard of art writing, documentation and dance history comes from sustained work in the field for almost 50 years; 47 books, 5000 articles, 3 monthly columns for decades and one yearbook – attenDance. Add cultural administration from 1980s onwards; teaching at universities dance modules, 85 such for UGC E-PATHSHALA and advisor to NEEMRANA group and IGNCA. On board of several institutions, organisations and NGOs make him a truly cultural icon of young India that bridges tradition with old Bharat. Ashish Khokar truly loves and serves Indian arts and culture selflessly.




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