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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Prahalada Natya Roopakam

Review of Prahalada Natya Roopakam held at Music Academy on 2nd  May 2015.
From the point of view of a novice Prahalada a Natya Rooppakkam held at Music Academy on 2nd May 2015 on the occasion of Narasimha Jayanthi was a very difficult but deftly presented program including injecting humor. I shall write about this particular program in detail in part two and three with both appropriate appreciation and calculated criticism of certain aspects which needed some improvement, modification etc.

But what this particular program did was to force me  to delineate the design of the art form, its role, relevance etc through some general observations to clear the air of confusions created among youth with regard to the milieu of south Indian culture and art especially classical music and Natyams. All the more because as a matter of serendipity on 2nd  May 2015 there was a detailed article in BBC titled ‘Can culture save cities?’ []

In the write up there will be some intentional repetitions as they are meant to reiterate and remind the readers. Wherever the word tradition is used it is used in the sense of ‘activities which have lived through times as an intrinsic part of a culture with certain inherent attributes’

Narasimha Avatar for me is a concept which explains that anything done with immense and involved dedication, focused concentration, conviction with courage, executed and performed with total intensity and intense totality will definitely bring out the desired result and reveal the truth, hitherto hidden from our purview and perceptions symbolically breaking open the well cemented preconceptions which protect the edifice of ignorance imbued ideologies within which and identities with which we live.

Today we face the harsh reality of the more difficult art of carrying out the necessary transition from tradition into transformation in classical music and Natyams of India.

First our traditional arts and culture are mostly imbued with and/or embedded in Bhakthi orientation with lot of religiously venerated mythological, historical, and theological; some esoterically conveyed philosophical concepts and scientific aspects as well. Most aspects of Indian culture are multifaceted splendors with each facet revealing itself according to the frame of reference and scale of observation of the individual. A very important but unfortunately often ignored short coming of our perception [1] 

At the same time most of these traditional cultures and arts were neither constrained by these aspects nor confined to these aspects but rather used them as a medium to convey through different art forms certain emotions; in some cases  high philosophical concepts; in some cases social mores; in some cases appealing to the aesthetic sensitivities of human beings; in some cases portraying the sensuous and natural aspects of life; in some portraying and appealing to the various senses at different levels; in some individual morals and principles for enhancing one’s inherent potential , embellishing one’s character etc.

So, in a way most of the traditional arts and cultures of this land permeated almost into every aspect of life and society and therefore they had to manifest the many human emotions. But as vast and varied it may sound. The traditional arts and cultures, like all traditional arts and cultures, is at the same time very difficult to depict or handle because any aberration anywhere can hurt the sentiments of purists as well as those who are sentimentally or ritualistically attached to those sources [religious bakthi orientation ] wherein they are embedded as indicated in the sixth  paragraph above.

At the same time art and culture cannot be allowed to become too stereotyped, trite, redundant leading them to be fossilized or ossified but they have to evolve, like everything else, by wading through the tides of trends –which could be contributory, complementary, contrasting, conflicting, contaminating etc- with the oars of compulsions and compromises and sail smoothly and safely to ensure the fundamental and basic principles or inherent aspects of the art form are kept intact and appropriate doses of  innovations are introduced to ensure that there is a subtle transformation through a  smooth transition from tradition but not away from or apart from it. Because culture is an important part of life and creates a very powerful impact through various forms of artistic expression the multiple meanings of life as journey of the souls experiencing, acting and interacting with all its tools like body, mind, emotions etc. [2]

Purist kill art and tradition by sticking on to classism too much like sticking on to King’s English and Chaucer’s spelling and end up petrifying all traditional arts and cultures. There is another brigade which creates lot of noises, mostly to seek attention, by taking on a very radicalized and diametrically opposite stand of  breaking into pieces everything that is part of tradition and end up putrefying the arts and cultures, unaware of the fact that the new scheme that they are creating will become a new tradition, forgetting two important facts that life has no permanent trends or taboos and that we can neither defy nor deny the importance of anything or anyone, as everything is interrelated, interconnected and interacting constantly as pieces in the unsolved jigsaw puzzle of life.[3]  Denying and defying things which have stood the test of time, either with reason or irrationally, is all the more difficult task and before denying their importance we need to first understand what has contributed to their survival through long periods of time.

I would like to reiterate from the first paragraph ‘necessary transition from tradition into transformation’ because every classical vocalist knows that he or she cannot render a better ‘Radha samedah Krishna’ than the great GNB or a better Bhahudari than the great Madurai Mani Iyer’ but that need not make them run away from performing nor they need to avoid rendering those songs or ragas but listen to those stalwarts, learn properly, enjoy them thoroughly and then engage in embellishing it with one’s own imprints within one’s limitations both physiological and talent wise. Similar is the scenario in Natyams. Who else can maneuver the rhythms in movements of every nerve in the feet as minutely as the great Briju maharaj? Or produce a vast repertoire of abhinayas as the great Padma Subramaniyam.

The greatness of predecessors in any field is not meant to weigh down on the avid learner or the performer but make their perspectives, perceptions and preparations wider, wiser and wonderful. As the great Sir Isaac Newton used to say, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants”.

We are able to witness this particular welcome trend - I mean evolutionary advancement [like evolutionary biology, evolutionary sociology, evolutionary philosophy, evolutionary politics etc] - in most domains of life.

Of course there are domains where it is caged in narrow walls like in certain ritualistic and religious observances which have refused to allow evolutionary trends and instead opted for verbal vindications to sustain the status quo and therefore are likely to gradually move away from the radar of involved participation and move into diminished interest and then saunter around for attention before finally fading away through indifference into the inevitable bin of insignificance and oblivion.

For any art form to survive it must ensure to manifest its inherent aesthetic and artistic appeal and relevance to the human body, mind and soul. Themes can change but must ensure commercial support for the artist to at least survive and lead a normal life with social acceptance and respectability. Only when art fulfills all these important aspects it will remain in radar of involved participation, interest and public attention. 

This is proving to be true even in the realm of sports, let me confine to cricket, where five day test matches [which are undoubtedly still the best form of testing a skill of a player] have given room to one day matches and to T-20s of all hues and colors to make it more interesting and commercially successful. But one ever wrote about playing cricket without 11 players or without a ball or without a bat or without a boundary line etc because you cannot dissociate cricket from these factors.

Similarly, I have listened to 5 to 6 hour concerts with two to two and half hour Ragam Thanam Pallavis, but nowadays we have artists who render the similar items very nicely within ten to fifteen minutes, quality need not be determined by length. After all we had the pioneers of SMS and Twitter in Aviayyar and Tiruvalluvar.

I have launched on to this lengthy preamble of general perceptions to put in right perspective the inevitable positions and avoidable perceptions in the minds of  young rasikas of music and dance, who were swinging like a  pendulum between some purists, critics and elders who treated  most new performers/performances with condescending comparisons [ I am not passing any judgment as to whether it is right or wrong] with very high standards and some street smart artists who used their PR machinery well enough to propel into realm of popularity [again I am not passing any judgment as to whether it is right or wrong]. This scenario was fair enough and expected but what is worse is now they are being confused and swayed away by irrelevant and incorrigible comparisons far removed from art. I shall explain about this [again I am not passing any judgment as to whether it is right or wrong].

Art and the cultural milieu and context where it has evolved have to be evaluated only with these parameters. We can adopt and effect necessary changes to embellish it, but to create controversies to confuse the general public with arguments as if it is a socio-political phenomenon to be approved and sanctified by some particular political ideology is totally wrong and misusing the fourth pillar for propagating such views is still worse.  Let us get it clear that unfortunately music is not made for the deaf, canvas painting is not made for the blind and dish antenna is not made for frying vegetables.
 I wish Narasimha, breaks such bad mouthing fourth pillars too.

All that is required is as simple as making relevant and proper evaluation. As grown up people we must also grow out of some unflinching loyalty to any prejudice or person if not through knowledge and wisdom, at least, through experience and the realization of the fact we cannot carry on like that forever in life.  
Otherwise involuntarily we all become a prey to certain conditions as Eric Micha'el Leventhal says,
“Everything changes as you move through three stages of awareness:
First, that beliefs are the result of conditions;
Second, that beliefs are the cause of conditions;
And third, that beliefs are themselves conditions.”
And “Across planes of consciousness, we have to live with the paradox that opposite things can be simultaneously true.” ― Ram Dass.
We cannot analyze art through ideological fixations or subject art to satisfy socio- political justifications.
We must also know that everything has its own inherent attributes, intrinsic values, internal mechanism and logic for its existence besides, beyond, exclusive of and unmindful of human intellectual justifications, acceptance, acknowledgement, social approvals, political support etc
I would like to give a link for everyone to understand what I am trying to stress here.
 [1] The scale of observation depends on man; it is he who creates it. In nature, different scales of observation do not exist. There is only one immense, harmonious phenomenon on a scale which, in general, escapes man. The structure of man's brain necessitates dividing into arbitrary compartments and cutting up into isolated pieces. With the aid of several instruments science creates more phantasmagoria: "on our scale of human observation, as pointed out before, the edge of a razor-blade is a continuous line. On the microscopic scale, it is a broken but solid line. On the chemic scale we have atoms of iron and carbon. On the sub-atomic scale we have electrons in perpetual motion which travel at the rate of several thousand miles per second. All these phenomena are in reality the manifestations of the same basic phenomenon, the motions of the electrons. The only difference which exists between them is the scale of observation" -Lecomte du Noüy in Human Destiny.

 [2] I am tempted to quote from this excellent speech of a great soul and to know about what culture is in brief read his lecture, the transcript which I have reproduced in the link given below.
“Man Status of Advancement:-

Mankind is entrenched in the egoistic notion of his primacy. In the right sense, his pre-eminence is his ability to develop and apply the salient tools of his mind, such as rationale, compassion etc to aid his intellect for the global or at least non-invasive individual benefits.

Man has two dimensions; personal and its extensions. His skill includes the art of designing a single way for multifarious goals and multiple ways for a single destination.

For accessing the utmost goal of liberation, freedom from the precincts, infringement and depletion, the human race is being gifted with the tools for molding personal nature through the forms of literature, culture, religion and philosophy.

Man begins with literature, behaves with culture, believes in religion and builds himself through philosophy.

Development of society, political society, science and technology are the extensions and expansions of personal enrichment.

Personal enrichment fashions ways and goals for sustenance and progress.”
[3] David Crystal, a leading linguist explains through his programs in BBC and through his books many interesting facts. In fact in one of his books titled ‘words, words, words' in the chapter on etymology he writes with historical, linguistic, lexicographical evidences if we trace back a few thousand years all the following words along with another dozen more have a common root the words are NICE, SCIENCE, CONSCIENCE, SHIT etc for those who are interested I shall type half the chapter when I find time. So tracing the history, ancestry, heritage , antiquity of anything when we dig up we may come up with many things which may throw light on many more  things. How we interpret them depends purely on our own sense of aesthetics, concern for others' sensitivities, our own intense or intolerant reactions, our own cultural and psychological makeup etc. But the fact is everything is at least in some remote way interconnected and interrelated.
                                    to be continued part –II

Prahalada – a Natya Roopkam staged on 2nd May 2015 at Music Academy
Part -II

There are various types of creations in art. We shall confine to a few of them as prevalent at present in arts, especially classical music and natyams [dances].

There are creations that are  consumer centric where productions are tailor made to suit the tastes and trends of consumer  and the marketing channels that cater to such consumers like television channels , films, certain auditoriums etc;

There are also creations wherein the creations follow just the flow of creative instinct of the creator unmindful of anything else, sometimes including the rules, grammar, and basic structures of the medium of art;

There are creations where the emphasis on themes wherein everything is made to project a particular theme in shining colors even if that involves forgoing great creativity, consumer interests etc;

There are certain creations that manifest the mastery of the techniques of the medium by the creator;

There are certain creations which make a delicate balance of most of the different kinds of creations mentioned above [without messing around too much in the name of innovations which take the sap out of the theme, context and culture] through a well knit team which thinks, trains, dreams and delivers with a well synchronized sense of purpose a passion filled production which impels consumers to become connoisseurs of that piece of creation. 

 It requires a conscious delicate combination of certain amount all types and aspects of creative activity because very often even the best of the creators put their whole heart and soul in a production but leave their mind out which results is lack of sustained response. Such balanced productions emanate from experiments with roots in traditions and limitations of license that one can take with various parameters of culturally entrenched themes and art forms. This does not mean that these tradition freaks need to insulate themselves from what is happening in the field of dance internationally.

What these types of productions do is to break the art from the shackles of stereotyped confines of classified creations; they may not scale up quantitatively in terms of additional number of consumers but sets the scales up for quality to a totally different level and thereby set a new trend of expectations from lovers and rasikas of art.

This is precisely what Prahalada – a Natya Roopkam staged on 2nd May 2015 at Music Academy, Chennai did.

I have been consciously refraining from using the word dance, though that is a universally understood term, instead preferred the term Natyam. Because it is not mere dance, which could be any type of movement of limbs, body, jumping etc. whereas, Natyam- the preferred term for referring to most of the classical dances of India- as Pavan K. Varma writes in his wonderful book ‘Becoming Indian’ writes, “is by definition a complex form of creative expression, encompassing within it not only pure dance but theatre, mime, music, poetry and, above all rasa. [Requires the knowledge of the language, mythology, symbolism, philosophy etc underlying the compositions]. It cannot be ‘simplified’ without killing its soul.  …..An intrinsic part of dance is abhinaya, the portrayal of emotion. Only a dancer who has studied the poetry that is at the heart of a dance composition, and has a knowledge of the music and the raga in which it is being sung, and is, over and above this, familiar with the philosophy and mythology underpinning the composition can make the authentic emotional investment that abhinaya requires.” …. “All cultures have a specific context; they may be open to outside influences, but cannot be substituted with another...”

Continued in part –III I shall cover details of  Prahalada – a Natya Roopkam staged on 2nd May 2015 at Music Academy,

Prahalada Natya Roopakam held at Music Academy on 2nd  May 2015 on the occasion of Narasimha Jayanthi. 

Why it was unique and aesthetically excellent.

The compositions of this program were penned down by Ashwin Kumar Iyer who like an architect conceptualizes certain themes ensuring an appropriate place for everything through lyrics packed with lot of meaning giving not only a complete portrayal of the character, events but also brings out the important concepts behind the characters and because of this architectural conceptualization which is the seed and script of any dance drama mostly everything else fall in its place. The 25 songs were beautifully tuned with a garland of ragas by P.B.Srirangachari which were appropriate to each and every sentiment expressed in the lyrics. Ghatam V. Umashankar as music director has ensured to weave excellent patterns with many classical instruments without using any electronic instrument. Dr.R. Ganesh as a lead singer along with a host of other senior singers rendered the songs excellently. Mahalakshmi Ashwinkumar as Choreographer , with a team of excellent dancers including many senior dancers like Shri.V. Balagurunathan, Shri S.Shivakumar gave a wonderful presentation even deftly handling humor in a very serious classical dance drama.

The presentation was further enhanced by the back drop of relevant artistic shadow puppetry on giant screen.

This particular presentation managed to overcome the difficult art of carrying out the necessary transition from tradition into transformation in classical music and Natyams of India.

It was one of those creations which made a delicate balance and careful combination of smooth flow of creative instinct, thought provoking thematic clarity, artistic dexterity, technical perfection, consumer interest through a well knit team of artists who all seem to have thought, trained, dreamt and delivered with a well synchronized sense of purpose a passion filled production which impelled the  rasikas to become connoisseurs of that piece of creation.  Very often even the best of the creators put their whole heart and soul in a production but leave their mind out which results is lack of sustained response. But these types of balanced productions emanate from experiments with roots in traditions and limitations of license that one can take with various parameters of culturally entrenched themes and art forms. This does not mean that these tradition freaks need to insulate themselves from what is happening in the field of dance internationally

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