I hope the headline I have given to the article today has totally shocked you and made you jump out of your seats? Because that is what exactly Padma Bhushan Dr Kanak Rele did while celebrating 50 glories years of her prestigious dance institute, Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyala. ‘A – Neeti’ (social injustice) is the title of her new production which has been making the rounds of different cities celebrating the golden jubilee of her brainchild Nalanda and if you have watched this dance drama, you will agree with me that it makes one jump out of their comfortable auditorium seats. Because ‘A – Neeti’ makes one think, it makes you look within, it shows you the mirror and on your face points out the morals and life we follow.
Abhinaya queen Dr Kanak Rele personally created this dance drama with her students who are themselves doing exceptionally well as performers, her entire team of her principal Dr Uma Rele and lecturers at Nalanda have been her backbone in putting this eye opening show together. Her excellent, well-qualified staff who also happen to be her students, her office staff and finally her die-hard spirit and her objective of always teaching something to her audience made her plan this show that is a must watch for all.
When I spoke to Kalidas Samman awardee Dr Rele, she told me, “I always believe that post-show, my audience should take back something with them, some moral, some thought, some revolutionary ideas and this show will really make them think and I hope it brings the change in the society that we all today are looking for.’
It is said that “a master does not react immediately, a true master thinks and when the time is right says what is right”. This emotional show germinated as a thought and invaded Dr Rele’s conscience more than 20 years ago. Wherever she looked, there was social injustice. The downtrodden were being victimised more and more; the condition of women was pitiable. Their freedom, sanctioned by the Constitution of the country, was merely a paper myth. She wanted to dance this social agony, this crushing injustice, she took recourse of our deep-rooted traditional legends and created dance pieces which reflected her anguish in the only idiom she knew best – dance. She danced stories of five most influential women from the Mahabharata – Satyavati, Kunti, Draupadi, Amba and Gandhari and called her show, Tejaswinee (the lustrous ones). But 20 years later, the same show has taken a new avatar which deals with old as well as newer issues faced in today’s society.
‘A – Neeti’ deals with the theme of injustice heaped on totally innocent people who had no control over their own destiny. The society in which they lived had decreed norms which did not take into account the emotional needs of human beings that go on to make the society. The Indian society has been mired in its own norms and taboos which have, many a times destroyed beautiful human souls by thrusting them into a life of despair. Even then the human soul is unconquerable. It arises above all adversities and rises above the mesh net of helplessness to achieve great release.
How is this possible? It is the exquisite quotient of shraddha (faith) that impels man towards greatness and, many-a-times, spiritual release. The production presents five such characters from the hoary ancient Indian tradition: Amba, Draupadi, Ekalavya, Gandhari and Nandanar (the untouchable bhakta).
Amba (played by Saji Menon)
The Kashi princess had selected Shalva to be her husband. But during swayamvara, she was carried away by Bheeshma. Shalva refused to accept her. Bheeshma refused to marry her. She entered fire and was born as Shikhandi – neither man nor woman who became the shield for Arjuna to fell Bheeshma in the Kurukshetra war.
Draupadi (performed by Megha Ahire Mohad)
The princess of Panchal who wanted to be only Pandava Arjun’s wife but was forced to marry the other four brothers also. She was hounded and molested publicity yet no one came to her help excepting Krishna.
Ekalavya (dance by Vaibhav Arekar)
The poor Nishad, forest dweller and untouchable boy who installed Dronacharya as his guru. But due to Arjuna’s envy, Dronacharya asked guru dakshina of Ekalavya’s right thumb, thereby rendering him useless as warrior.
Gandhari (Madhuri Deshmukh)
The princess of Gandhar (Afghanistan) came with great hopes to marry Kuru prince, Dhritarashtra. Her young hopes were dashed to ground on hearing he was born blind and would not become the emperor. She also accepted to be without any light in her life.
Nandanar (Deepak Mazumdaar)
Was an untouchable bhakta of Lord Shiva. He was an expert maker of mridangam to be played in the temple of Lord Shiva. But when he tried to have a glimpse of the Lord, he was rudely beaten. The Lord heard his pleas and gave him the divine glimpse of Tandava. Nandanar’s soul achieved moksha (salvation).
Dr Rele is known world over for her Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam and for this show, she used both the styles to showcase the stories perfectly. Her dear friend Shri Kavalam Narayana Panikkar penned the exquisite and soul-stirring lyrics and also set them to Sopana Sangeetam talas. To make this one-and-a-half hour show, more youth and today’s audience-friendly Padma Shri Dr Rele has used English as the language to introduce the characters while she plays the sutradhar (anchor) in ‘A- Neeti’, the characters when come alive on stage perform in Tamil, Malayalam and Sanskrit. The combination of different languages, music styles, various dance forms along with Dr Rele’s unique manner of choreography all put together is a total riot on stage.
Post-show when I met the super-charged Dr Kanak Rele who never seems to rest ever, I asked her why she did not dance herself and chose to be the narrator only, she said in her dynamic style, “I had an ankle surgery some time back but no operation. No doctor can keep me away from my dance so I chose to use the Nangayar Kutu style (sit and perform) of presentation. My students were my performers and thus I became the storyteller.”
An artiste needs nothing but appreciation for the hard work they do. “Padma Vibhushan Kapila Vatsyayan, on seeing ‘A-neeti’ in Delhi, conveyed her most valuable blessings and warmest appreciation for the entire presentation. She applauded my most evocative expressions as the sutradhara and my choreographic talent in maintaining total distinction between my Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam artistes.’
‘The show must go on’ is something that is told to a dancer time and again and Dr Rele truly proves that. Even after her complicated surgery, her show goes on as if nothing had ever happened. Her spirit is filled with life and dance that it does not see nor experience pain while performing but we all dance lovers who love, adore and admire Dr Kanak Rele pray today that she gets her ankle fit as soon as possible, put on her ghungroos and mesmerises us again with her dance and abhinaya.
Sandip Soparrkar is an internationally renowned Ballroom and Latin Dancer and a Choreographer, he has also made his name as one of the top Bollywood choreographers of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]