Grace & beyond

Grace & beyond

in conversation

Grace & beyond

Yamuna Srinidhi. A familiar face on Kannada television channels. This busy actor is presently shuttling between Sagara and Bengaluru, the locations for two serials she is working in, Aramane and Sakshi.

Anybody watching her on TV could not have missed her expressions and her eyes that say a lot. Like a dancer. Which is why you are not surprised to learn that Yamuna is an accomplished bharatanatyam dancer. The way she started learning bharatanatyam is a story in itself. To hear that, we have to go back in time, to the early 1980s, to Mysuru, when a six-year-old Yamuna, like all little girls, kept going to her close friend’s house to play in the evenings.

Love for dance

The sounds of “thaiyum thatta thaiyum thaha...” that came wafting out of the window drew her like a magnet. Little Yamuna abandoned her playing to investigate what these sounds were. Through the window, she saw an elderly lady, her friend Mamatha’s great-grandmother, chanting these phrases as students danced to her beat. She was so fascinated that she spent her entire play time watching the lady through the window, and then rushed back home to try out all those steps. This ‘play time’ became a regular practice.

Yamuna’s father, Krishne Gowda, noticed her interest and sent her to the elderly lady for training. The great-grandmother was none other than the legendary dancer K Venkatalakshamma, who was the Asthana Vidushi (Royal Court dancer) for an astounding 40 years (from 1939 to 1979) at the Mysuru Palace.

Yamuna’s eyes lit up as she remembered those early years with the dancing legend. “Her abhinaya (expression) is second to none. She was 88 when I went to her...she would do the expressions of a 16-year old! Her shringara abhinaya! My god! She used her hands to show the footwork.”

Yamuna travelled to the US to perform at functions organised by Kannadigas living there, and also to teach at the University of Houston. She met her husband, Srinidhi, who was working in the US, who organised one of her dance performances. Yamuna settled down in America for about 15 years, to a life buzzing with teaching, performing and community service before returning to India.

Her dance performances in America led her to her next chapter as an actor. Kannada channel Udaya TV interviewed her on the channel in Bengaluru. “That’s how the industry came to know about me, and that I was back here for good. ETV saw that interview, and asked me if I was interested in acting in a serial that they were planning.”

Lure of acting

Unlike many actors, Yamuna had never taken part in any school or college plays. As a child, she had been keen to act in movies. “My dad had slapped me once, when I showed that interest, and after that I never pursued it! And when this came up, my husband said, ‘You’re a dancer, and it is easy for a dancer to act, you’ve always wanted to do this, the opportunity is here...why not consider it?’” Yamuna gave an audition, and got the role. She accepted it on the condition that there would be no more than seven to eight days of shooting a month. Ashwini Nakshatra was her debut serial. “And after that, that was it! One serial after another, and eight days of shooting a month became 30 days.” She has worked in two Kannada films so far: Dil Rangeela and Melody.

She is currently working in two serials. “I am doing this new serial called Aramane. I am enjoying it thoroughly because it is made for me. I play a dancer, even my name is Yamuna... This other serial I am doing is Sakshi, which has a social message in it. You can relate to it in your day-to-day life.”

Apart from her acting commitments, Yamuna continues to teach bharatanatyam to students in the US, through Skype, between 5 am and 6 am, before leaving for her shoots. The late hours of TV and film shooting make it difficult to teach local students. “Teaching is a huge commitment. I don’t want to cancel or re-schedule my classes because of my shoot — I have never cancelled a class in my life.”

Right now, Yamuna is trying to keep about 12 days in a month free for her family, which consists of her husband Srinidhi, son Vedanth (13), daughter Lasya (9), and their young German Shepherd Simba.

How does she unwind? “Basically, I am a hyperactive person. I sulk if I don’t have work in hand. Music is the secret of my energy. I am happy with any kind of music. Hip hop, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Mandolin Srinivas, flute, instrumental...”

Yamuna says she goes with the flow. “I never thought I would be acting in serials and movies. I just take things as they come.” The six-year old girl from Mysuru has certainly danced through life so far.