There was a spring in his step, and, though dressed in a kurta and veshti, he verily sprinted towards us. This was musician Sriram Parasuram, and waiting for him near their car was his wife and fellow musician Anuradha. They were late for an appointment and Sriram was looking smugly virtuous, having proved his eagerness to make amends. To me, his athleticism was impressive, and proof that it hadn’t been an empty boast when he had told me just a while earlier that he played in cricket matches among management institutes. I always knew that this versatile musician-scholar had a keen interest in sport, but it had been a revelation to me that he actually participated in it.
Sriram Parasuram who turns 53 later this month, is an accomplished artist in at least two distinct genres of music, composer, teacher and expert communicator. He is in fact all that and more. The word polymath suits few people better. I have been an admirer of his music for well over two decades during which period I have listened to his Carnatic violin, Carnatic vocal, Hindustani violin and vocal, north-south jugalbandi with artists of both streams of Indian classical music and folk musicians, with his wife Anuradha Sriram and even himself (!), his rendering of abhangs and bhajans, his lecture demonstrations on all these varied forms of music, his workshops for students of music, his TV programmes on the universality of music, and his analysis and expositions of the art of great musicians and composers. Incredibly, he manages to leave you thirsting for more, at the end of his demonstrations.
Simhanandini: the dancing lion
Simhanandini, the much-admired dance, brings to mind the picture of a seasoned dancer drawing the figure of a lion with her feet on coloured powder. My first tryst with this remarkable feat happened when I watched the film Amrapali. My eyes were riveted to the movements of the gorgeous heroine, Vyjayantimala who creates a spectacular lion on rangoli powder. Thanks to technology, this act of drawing the lion happens in an instant on the silver screen! Barely nine at that time and yet to do my arangetram, I told my father that one day I too would dance that number. My father indulgently patted me on the shoulder and said, “Of course you will, my dear.” By God’s grace, he did eventually see me perform it quite a few times.
My aspiration to learn this number came true quite providentially in 1981, when my husband M.V. Narasimhachari and I had the opportunity to learn the Simhanandini and the Mayura Kauthvam from Guru C.R. Acharya. To this great guru goes the credit for re-creating this ancient number and also giving it the new appellation ‘Simhanandini’. It was also his ingenuity that made it possible for the audience to witness the lion-drawing, seated in comfort, rather than having to walk to the stage to see it. In our guru’s version, coloured powder is spread on the ground and above it a white cloth is fastened to a large, rectangular wooden frame that is approximately three inches in height. Just the right amount of water is sprinkled on this cloth to make it damp. As the dancer’s feet press down upon the stretched fabric, the coloured powder from the floor gets imprinted on to it, preserving the kinaesthetic movements of the dancer in a visual format. Fortunately, the monumental work of our guru is being carried forth by his daughter Voleti Rangamani.
DR. S. RAMANATHAN
The first thing that comes to mind about Dr. S. Ramanathan’s music is his sense of proportion. He was an example of how the simplest things could weave the most wondrous magic and leave listeners asking for more.
About vidwans like Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, it has been said that the highlight of their music was creative alapana and that kriti rendition was a mere formality. Other musicians, like T. Brinda, made the rendering of the composition the hallmark of their style or the base on which the style was developed. Dr. S. Ramanathan belongs to the second category. The variety of kritis he offered is quite unmatched.
Be it the compositions of the Trinity, or modern day composers like Gopalakrishna Bharati or Koteeswara Iyer, the manner in which he rendered them in his deep voice, with all the sangatis, was captivating. Each sangati adhered to the tradition, with no improvised phrases, no compromise in the raga lakshana. Every note, every line was soaked in tradition and rendered powerfully, with no needless speeding. The kalapramana remained intact throughout his rendering. For a student of music, Ramanathan’s rendition was a boon—it could be easily and accurately notated.
THEATRE REFLECTIONS ON THE INDIAN STAGE
By eminent women from different disciplines
By MAHESH ELKUNCHWAR
Playwright, theatre director, journalist, translator, artistic director of JustUs Repertory, and vocal accompanist to the late M.S. Subbulakshmi, Dr. Gowri Ramnarayan is a rare amalgam of aesthetics and scholarship. A triple gold medallist in her M.A. (English Litt.) from Osmania University, she has a Ph.D from Madras University in Comparative Aesthetics. She retired as a Deputy Editor, The Hindu (1989-2010). While working for The Hindu she wrote extensively on music, dance, theatre and cinema and attended many film festivals, leading to juror duties at the London, Venice, Oslo, Mumbai and other international film festivals. She has translated Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadan and Mitrachi Goshtha as well as a collection of Kalki’s short stories into English. The author of books like Past Forward, MS and Radha, Abu’s World and Abu’s World Again, she wrote her first play Dark Horse and founded JustUs Repertory in Chennai in 2005. She won the Mahindra Excellence Award for Dark Horse in 2007.
Gowri’s plays and dance theatre productions have been performed in India and abroad, and she has lectured at American universities. Excerpts from her play Night’s End were performed by Swedish actors at Stockholm in August 2012 at an international women’s playwright’s conference. A chance presentation for British visitors to Chennai has led to her troupe being invited to stage Night’s End at the prestigious Soho Theatre in London from 27 November to 2 December 2017. A book titled Dark Horse & Other Plays (six of them) was recently released. Gowri was honoured with the title ‘Nataka Choodamani’ by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai in April 2015.