A Queen of Mime – Shobana

By Hamsa Venkat

Throwing a bouquet of flowers presented by the organisers into a star struck audience, Shobana walked away from the stage with a jaunty gait. Typical of an incident witnessed at a filmfare awards function and not probably at a classical dance recital, this glamour and glitz to some extent characterized the evening of dance organised by the Sydney chapter of Soorya.
Shobana started the evening with a Mallari in Ragam Gambheera nattai and as Vidya Bharadwaj a veterinary surgeon and dancer from Sydney pointed out “What attracted my attention was that she wasn’t performing what she had practised a million times but what she wanted to and how she wanted to. She moved with ease and to a tune only she was listening to.”
Following the Mallari was a bhakthi piece, “Janani ninnu vina” in Ragam Reethigowlai. Here Shobana took on the expression of a devotee who challenges the goddess as to why she doesn’t respond to her prayers. Having been used to the subservient devotee pleading for a glance of Devi Janani, this commanding of attention from the dancer was an uncommon interpretation.

The piece de’ resistance, the varnam was unique in many ways. The story of the goddess Kali of Dakshineshwar was narrated and as Sangeetha Sriram, a dancer from Sydney vocalised her thoughts “I am sure I was not alone in being exposed for the first time to the story of Kali and why the form of Kali is depicted with the tongue sticking out.” Shobana explained in her narration, Folklore has it that Kali as she danced her rudra tandavam accidently stepped on Lord Shiva’s form who lay on her path to stop her from her dance of destruction. In embarrassment Kali laughs and sticks her tongue out. In modern parlance “ouch, did I step on you…” and that’s how the representation of Kali with her tongue sticking out came into being. The rituals of tantric worship using the five elements and how on the banks of the Ganges, animal slaughter is a common occurrence as an offering to the goddess was also elaborated upon.
The music for the varnam evoked mixed feeling in the audience. Some felt in was too cinematic with sound effects of slashing of swords and laughter of Kali in the background interspersed with the lyrics but some others thought it added to the dramatic effect of the dancer’s movements. Of course it could be explained as the liberty one is allowed within the realms of artistic licence and innovation.
After a costume change Shobana resumed with presenting the viraha nayika (forlorn lover) in the sedate Swathi thirunal padam, ‘poonthen nermozhi’ in Ragam Anandabhairavi. Shobana alternated between the role of the pleading nayika(heroine) and the demanding Sakhi(friend) . What took the audience by storm was the popular tamil piece on Krishna, ‘Vishamakara kannan’ bringing to the forefront the experienced actress in Shobana, the queen of mime. Mischievous Krishna, teasing, cajoling, and commanding the attention of all in Brindavan was effectively portrayed. Clearly her forte is natya and she got in and out of character very well was an observation from many in the audience. Shobana concluded with a Dashavataram piece set to instrumental music by L. Shankar set to a rhythm of 19 beats. There again Shobana’s expressive bhava (facial expression) and angika abhinaya (expression through body movements) captured the audience : the fluid movement with which she represented Mahavishnu as the tortoise lifting the mountain on his back, the toddling dwarf Vamana, the battle of wills as many princes try their hand at lifting the mighty bow to win Seetha’s hand. Anurathi Krishnamurthy a student of dance commented “ Shobana’s expression in the second half was amazing and as a student of dance it was very interesting watching her.”
When one is in the limelight of the celluloid world and an acclaimed dancer, there are expectations that are not met and lead to disappointment. Many observed that nrtta passages were lacking in precision and executed lazily and as Suchie Vijayakumar commented “my only authority to comment on this performance is the fact that I love dancing and for me dance is about the dancer talking to me through their art where at one point there is complete transference with me being a part of the story. I can’t fault her dancing but felt nothing.” This was felt by some in the audience where one could clearly see the dance and dancer as two entities when it should have been one.
The organisers Soorya , Sydney chapter left no stone unturned to organise the event and in reward for their efforts they had a full house. As is usual in most Soorya shows there was a second part to the program, a 45 minute dance segment by Savita Sastry a student of Adyar.K.Lakshman. Savita performed two pieces, both arguments. The first one was a ninda stuthi, an argument between a Shiva devotee and Shakthi devotee both debating on the superiority of their respective deities. The second was in a light-hearted vein, an argument between Krishna and Radha. Though it lacked the glitz and glamour of the first half, Savita’s clean lines, excellent aramandi , brilliantly executed jathis and subtle abhinaya was definitely refreshing.

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