Thursday, April 16, 2009

Classical is the mother of styles - Sukanya and Kala on dance, cinema and reality shows

Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Thursday, Jul 12, 2007

Two decades under the arc lights and Sukanya is still restless. She wants to write more, direct a film, complete her second music album, and do women-centric roles. Right from her debut in the Bharathiraja film “Pudhu Nellu Pudhu Naathu”, she had it coming – the choicest directors, versatile roles and the cream of co-stars. Today as Shanthi in the long-running serial “Anandham” (Sun TV), the classical dancer-turned-actor has wowed the small sc reen audience too.

When Kollywood’s Kala Master shouts 1,2,3 on the sets, stars are up on their feet. Trained or not in dance, this thirty-plus National Award winning choreographer can make everyone jump, jive and gyrate to her tunes. Give her a romanti c duet (the mellifluous “Roja” songs), a classical number (“Ra, ra” from Chandramukhi) or a dappankuthu (“Chocolate”), the petite dance master makes them come alive on the screen, step by step.

Conversation :

When the old-time buddies meet for a Take Two it is pure synchrony. Chitra Swaminathan tunes in…

Sukanya What’s it like to make today’s stars match steps with you?

Kala Not very difficult. They are sharp and quick on the uptake. Even those as stiff as wood manage to shake a leg within a few weeks after attending a dance school.

Sukanya It’s the exposure and awareness I guess that gives them the confidence. I was amazed to see Jyotika do that classical number so beautifully in “Chandramukhi”.

Kala I knew it was a big risk to make a non-classical dancer do the number. Jo too was apprehensive. But she was game for the hard work and mastered the moves. I was so thrilled with her performance that I gifted her a lovely silk sari while she gave me a diamond bracelet.

Sukanya That’s unfair. I have danced perfectly to your tunes several times but you never bought me gifts. (Both laugh). What fun we had doing that song from the Malayalam film “Tooval Kottaram”! I like your approach to film choreography. You do not make it appear frivolous. Rather it’s a happy blend of different dance styles, particularly, Indian folk and classical.

Kala Only yesterday I was listening to that hit number of yours “Chinna Rajave” in which you danced with Prabhu Deva.

Sukanya While doing the song I suggested that he include some comic elements and he thought it was a wonderful idea. The song was such as a rage that wherever I went people would tell me to sing a few lines. Wish I had been able to tak e time off to complete my training in music.

Kala I have heard you sing in many shows. Nothing can match the joy of listening to or performing classical music and dance. I was delighted when I got to do the “Ra ra” number. Such compositions are hard to come by in film s today. So I decided to give my all to this song. And luckily it has proved to be a milestone in my career. Actually there’s no genre as film dance. Like you said, it is an outcome of multiple influences and there are no boundaries. If the choreographer is classically trained, it would give him/her an edge and the sustaining power.

Sukanya After all classical is the mother of all styles. Once you master it, you are sure to put your best foot forward. I studied at Kalakshetra and was also part of the legendary Chandralekha’s troupe. So I had a taste of the t raditional and the contemporary. Chandralekha was a pioneer in many ways. She did then what many are trying to do now – portray themes relevant to the times.

Kala One performance that had a deep impact on me is Padma Subramaniam’s Kuravanji dance drama. Her face is a canvas of expressions. Making you cry one moment and laugh aloud the next. The attention she gives to detail is remarka ble. This is how a classical performance should be – thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. Being a dancer, acting must have come naturally to you?

Sukanya True. On the stage you can afford to be melodramatic in order to make your facial expressions visible to the person seated in the last row, unlike in cinema, where you have to be a complete natural.

Kala There’s no retake on stage and your individual effort will be appreciated. Stage performers need to know about every department — lighting, sound, set, music and costume. Films are a team effort. No individual is b lamed when a film fails. Thanks to the media, people now recognise the work of those behind the camera.

Sukanya Do you go by each actor’s personality while choreographing?

Kala Absolutely. If the actor is at ease doing the movements, the choreographer’s job is half done.

Sukanya Do you never tire of dressing up songs?

Kala I have always wanted to dance and do nothing else. I learnt classical dance by watching my elder sister, who trained at Padmini’s school. It was only later that I also enrolled myself in a dance class. My sister married Ragh uram master, a popular choreographer. I would miss no opportunity to accompany him to the sets and soon became his assistant. Once I filled in for him as he was busy with another film. I was 14 then. It was my first individual assignment. And Kala soon became Kala master. Over the years, I feel dance has become more about technology than emotion.

Sukanya But technology cannot replace the traditional appeal of an art… It’s heartening to see there is so much talent now. Look at the kids contesting in reality shows. Remember the one we judged in Kerala? It was so diffi cult to choose the winners.

Kala Television’s reach is incredible. It has managed to shrink the world.

Sukanya I was shocked to see people buying DVDs of serials abroad. The small screen success has given me a new high.

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