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A trail of life- The Unseen Sequence

Malavika Sarukkai
(Image courtesy: Saptaparni)

When two fringes of artistic endeavors ally together to explore intricacies, it not only gives a niche output but extends creative boundaries for both the fraternities. After following a rather long path of traditional practice, what the classical performing arts require most is technical support in documentation to make them collectible resources for any future study.

Sumantra Goshal, a fine filmmaker and Malavika Sarukkai, one of the most profound artistes of the country combined their creative geniuses to give ‘Unseen Sequence’ a one of its kind documentary on the journey of Bharatanatyam through Ms. Sarukkai’s works.

The performing arts, especially classical dances eternally suffer from the tension of opportunities, spaces to perform, performers, and an audience. Given this situation and the trailor of this documentary doing the rounds, it was but an impatient wait for a free bee like me (I rarely get opportunities to perform, but attend every single one in town and land up only doing a lot of voluntary work!) to watch something worthwhile. Thanks to wonderful souls like Ms. Anuradha Reddy for a free screening in Hyderabad; poor young dancers like me got a chance!

The film is clearly a work of passion in comprehending and appreciating the true value that classical arts carry with them. Having spent about two years with Ms. Sarukkai and travelling with her dance productions, Mr. Goshal gives us a very different view of our world of dance through his lenses.

The very opening makes a deep connect capturing Malavika Sarukkai offering her 40 years of art right at the sanctum of the Lord of Dance – Chidambaram Temple. This simple vision, reflects the entire gamut of interior tenets that the art form is attached to –Hindu belief and mythology, where through her dance, the dancer both celebrates the Lord and surrenders to Him. The director dissects into this treatment all along the movie through multiple visualizations and interpretations that Ms. Malavika incorporates in her dancing. The viewer is made to relish this socio-cultural underpinning.

The re-construction of the ‘Devadasi system’ showing the marriage of a girl and subsequently the ritual dancing was technically a fine feat. Renowned scholar Lakshmi Viswanathan’s inputs of the tradition of Nattuvanars, their distinct interaction with Devadasis, the shift of the dancing space and its content to the contemporary context contoured the travel of the form from Dasi attam to Bharatanatyam for the uninitiated.

A glimpse of the importance of traditional training systems followed in the classical dance is explained at length and through relevant examples. In most cases a self example by Malavika as interactions with Guru Kalyanasundaram, Guru Kalanidhi Narayanan and mentors like C.V. Chandrasekhar reaffirm the need for strong roots in training to many a youngster watching the movie. On another level, these interactions of the dancer with the Gurus succeed to instruct on and eradicate myths – myths like classical dance having rigid content and form, and Gurus not departing from or sharing their treasure house of knowledge. It educates on how the format can only be used to construct a beautiful garden of flowers from the basics and it is up to the learner to cull out valuable learnings from the preceptor.

While Ms. Sarukkai’s mother Saroja Kamakshi’s anchoring her career and its pivotal importance creates a lump in the throat for all its emotional touch, the film also accentuates the importance of constant innovation of vocabulary, not for the audience, but for exploration of one’s own art.

The dancer narrates the motivations and inner calling driving her towards specific works. The urge of wanting to depict the ‘Devi’ as a solo format is shown leading into something soul stirring. Having seen the divine personification of femininity destroy the evil in multiple group presentations, she reconstructs the solo with her vision and movement vocabulary to an absolute visual astonishment.

The movie is but a journey for not only does it see a dancer and her dance, but also her instincts at every stage of life like her feelings for Varnasi’s historic cult and its spiritual energy leading to a production of which selected clippings show a beautiful rendition of the ‘Aarti’. Malavika here comes so much in terms with people living in the city that she makes sublime use of the body language of the drummers and other musicians in her adaption on the stage. Her conversations with death at a point of losing some of her loved ones leads to using dance as a mode of expression. Primarily, the dancer is best at one language of communication – her dance - and needs nothing beyond that, and this is the message the makers try to convey through the documentary.

A truly magnificent production, which has been travelling across the country and abroad, needs in the least that every young artiste watches it and it is made archival material by the fraternity!