ONLINE: Geeta Chandran keeps her performances alive online

Geeta Chandran is a Padma Shri-winning exponent of Bharatanatyam, a senior guru who teaches several students and who also runs the Natya Vriksha Dance Company. She has to her credit many brilliant disciples, productions and an annual dance festival. The list of awards and accolades she has won are endless. Words will fall short if you happen to see her in performing live – try describing the emotions that emerge within you.

The years 2020 and 2021 have been a major setback to her, as they have been to all performing artists. In 2020, all dance schools were closed. This came as a thunderbolt to all performers and gurus. All performances all over the world were cancelled. Overnight, she went to being completely home-bound from being someone who was used to having two to three batches of students coming almost every day, performances and rehearsals going on all around the year, travel itineraries for major festivals being planned all around the year. This period was unforeseen—a life in the house, cut off from one’s work. And then the virus struck the entire family. Then followed a period of gradually recuperating and at the same time collecting the threads of her art too. She started online classes and doing a few lec-dems for various organizers to help support other artists, while she looked after her Natya Vriksha artists.

The following year, 2021, was devastating. One had to deal with the loss of dear friends and close family members, especially during the second wave of COVID-19 in India. And yet, as life came to a bit of a normalcy after that, Geeta also bounced back. She has produced a few videos and given live performances with her company as well. So I just thought that bringing up these videos again would be good for a hybrid kind of performance space that we have to adapt to now. In Delhi, scientists are saying that we might be on the threshold of COVID becoming endemic (if the new variant doesn’t cause a new wave) and of auditoriums opening up for live performances.

Love through One Plus Nord (30 May)

The video starts with Geeta in a black saree with a lamp in the frame. To very gentle music, mainly flute, Kamadeva is shown to come in riding with his bow and arrow. Sudha Raghuraman’s rendition of the composition makes quite an impact in the beginning. The abhinaya by Geeta shows Kamadeva preparing himself to kiss the thousand-petalled face lotus of his wife. She very sensuously portrays Kamadeva hovering as a bee on her lips and kissing her. Kamadeva is shooting his arrows relentlessly at Rati, who is trying to evade them. The composition is from Damodar Gupta’s ‘Kuttani mattam’.

This was an abhinaya-dominated piece where the eyes did most of the talking. The literary sensuousness of the piece is brought out very sensitively through mukhabhinaya. It is here that you see the benefit of technology. The bhavas have been brought out very successfully through the eyes of the camera. Every movement of the eyes, expressing every mood, has been captured. 

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Ritusamhara (14 July)

This video was filmed in the Natya Vriksha studio when it was being renovated. In fact, you can almost smell the freshness of the place as you watch it. This piece is from the Ritusamhara by Kalidas and is about varsha ritu. The literature is laden with similes. The music was gentle; the singing could give you goosebumps. The video shows an earthen lamp on the floor, the huge untainted glasses of the patio like windows, and Geeta in a black sari. The greenery outside was visible, so the colour palette had daylight and black silhouettes. As the flute plays, the nayika is shown distressed by the heat. She fans herself and has a drink to cool herself. The pakhawaj plays to announce the rumbling of the clouds. ‘Sasikara amsodhara matt kunj’ went the lyrics, and the video depicted the nayika’s gait as she walks in and the camera follows her feet. She is excited to hear the sounds of the clouds. They rumble like many intoxicated elephants. The lightning in the sky is blinding, as if a royal woman in all her finery is passing through. Such poetic lyricism was complemented with abhinaya. 

The video, with its muted colours and silhouettes, enhances the theme of sultry summer days and the sudden onset of rains. This was creativity at its best. It was a very pleasant watch. Sans the nritta and facial expressions, the music, vocals and precise movements have been used to enhance the impact.

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Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav

The next piece that I found interesting was the one she did called ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ for the WZCC. Geeta talked at length about Bharatanatyam and how the dance assimilates bhava, raga and tala. She started her performance with an ode to Bharat Mata on the occasion of the 75th year of independence. She was dressed in a green costume and her abhinaya depicted the land, the trees and the wonder that this country is, complemented with nritta and abhinaya. She paid tribute to the motherland. 

Further elaborating on nritta and nritya, she danced to a composition from haveli sangeet, a Govind vandana. She started with a shloka depicting Vishnu as vishwaroop, padmanabh, swami, jagatguru in Kurukshetra and raasbihari in Vrindavan. The bhakta is awestruck when he gets a darshan of his lord Vishnu. The jathis in the interludes were expansive, with perfect lines. She depicted Vishnu’s eyes like kamals; he wears a lotus or kamal mala and in his nabhi kamal, depicted through a reclining posture, he houses Bramha. He is the consort of Kamala, and this was followed by a very beautiful and subtle description of the shesh shaiyya on which Lord Vishnu reclines. The lotuses on the surface of the ocean, with their stems and leaves, make for a bed on which the shesh coils up to offer a resting place for Lord Vishnu, with his hood spread out over the head of the lord. In a broad plie, Geeta depicted how the lotuses on the surface of the water move up and down and so does the shesh shaiyya. Elaborating on ‘kansa vansh vinashaye, keshichanoor... vinashine’, she depicted the story of Arjun on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Here, you could see the synchronization of the bhavas expressed by the vocalist and the dancer. The abhinaya elaborated Arjun’s dilemma at seeing his kin and elders ranged against him on the battlefield.

Krishna persuades him to follow the righteous path by giving the Geetopdesh and giving a darshan of his virat Swaroop, with shankha dhwani in the background. Finally, Gopal is worshipped as the one who performed the leelas on the Kalindi, who is ‘lola kundal dharine’. Nature dances with the flute, the trees swing, the lotuses blossom, the cows do their dance and finally, all the gopis and sakhas are attracted to him. The jathis in the interludes were with leaps, covering the stage widely and with intricate patterns. Finally, he was depicted as Rukmini kant, gopijanmanohar, and jagatguru. 

The third piece that Geeta performed was by the great bhakti poet Vidyapati. The literature here narrates how the gopi is having a conversation with Manmatha, to whom she complains, why is he shooting his arrows repeatedly at her? Shiva was attacked by Kamadeva when he saw the lord in the Mohini avatar. The gopi further complains that she was peacefully sitting near the Yamuna and making a garland when Kamadeva randomly started shooting arrows at her. The attitude of Kamadeva as he appears and starts to shower the gopi with arrows was depicted with a lot of attitude. The gopi tells him that she does not wear ashes on her body but simply the chandan paste. She does not wear the skin of the lion but simply clothes. Her hair is not matted into jatas, it has been carefully combed into a veni. The Ganga does not flow from her locks, she ties a flower veni on her hair. She is not wearing the moon as her head ornament, she wears a small bindi on her forehead. There are no flames on her forehead but a pinch of sindoor. She is not holding the poison in her throat, she is wearing a garland of beads and not ornaments of snakes. So she could not be mistaken for Shiva by Kamadeva even from a distance, even though Kamadeva has made it his business to shower his arrows at her. Certainly, he would know better than to shower a simple gopi with all the anguish and pain of his arrows. The composition is full of similes and was complemented by the amazing singing and the abhinaya of Geeta Chandran, who went into the minor details of the literature and depicted them in very subtly. 

The final piece was the Kabir Das composition ‘Santo, andha dhundhi andhiara’. The piece was depicted poignantly through abhinaya, music and vocals. The videography was used to film multiple images and then superimpose them. The performance crescendoed with the climax, ‘Isi mein udhat fuvaara, isi me guru hamara’.

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Pics: All file pics by Anoop Arora