Beyond the specifics

Beyond the specifics

Sindhu Mishra was all of six when one of her school teachers told her to call her parents for a meeting. Scared and anxious, she did. When her father turned up, the teacher told him to get her a ghunghroo and a tabla. “Your daughter has talent; I will make her perform a solo in six months’ time.” True to his word, he trained her and Sindhu gave her first stage performance at her school.

Today, Sindhu Mishra is considered to be a pre-eminent bharatanatyam dancer and a dance scholar of considerable repute. Her fresh and contemporary approach to the art form has gained her a loyal audience as well as critics’ appreciation. Having participated in all the major dance festivals in the country and won many awards, Sindhu is currently also the deputy secretary of Sahitya Kala Parishad.

But her dance training was not as seamless as it appears to be. Once the teacher who had initially spotted her interest and talent left the school, Sindhu’s training stopped abruptly. But dance was not about to let her go so easily. A few years after this incident, a classmate of hers happened to perform bharatanatyam in her classroom, just on a whim. “She was in her uniform and performed with no fineries and no music — when somebody said ‘kuch dikhao’. But I was so impressed that I ran up to her and found out about the art form,” remembers Sindhu.

That was when she started her formal training with guru Kamalini Dutt. Sindhu later fine-tuned her bharatanatyam skills with other renowned gurus such as K J Govindarajan and K N Dakshinamoorthy.

Emotional connect, not grammar
Sindhu’s biggest passion is to take the art of bharatanatyam to a wider (and younger) audience. “Right from the time I was performing, I have heard dancers complaining about audience disinterest; many keep whining about how the art form is losing its audience base. But I have a different take on this,” she says. She goes on to explain that though the grammar and structure of an art form is important, dancers need to emotionally connect with the audience for an art form to thrive.

“We are too stuck up with the grammar of bharatanatyam — don’t get me wrong, grammar is a good thing but not at the cost of bhava, the emotional bond, which an artiste has to forge with her audience,” she says.

She feels that “art is a matter of the heart” and as long as an artiste understands this basic tenet, she will never face the problem of disinterest. “Recently, one of my students, a Kashmiri boy, performed his rangapravesham. For me, a performance is not about routinely presenting piece after piece without any thought to the milieu. Which is why, my student and I had several brainstorming sessions before we arrived at the final programme list,” she narrates.

The ‘shringar’ of Rama
Anybody with even a rudimentary knowledge of bharatanatyam is aware that the varnam is the dance piece that tests (and showcases) the mettle of a dancer. For this piece, Sindhu wanted a nayak pradhan item and after much search, she zoomed on a varnam that spoke about Rama’s shringar and how he shared his fears and thoughts with Lakshmana while he beautified himself. “The music was Hindustani and this was deliberate — I did not want the Delhi audience to sit glassy-eyed when my student performed,” she laughs. This most unusual role reversal of the hero beautifying himself before meeting the heroine went down very well with the audience, she says.

Another piece she is very proud of is a padam her student performed. A padam usually focusses on the emotions of the performer and how well he or she is able to portray them. For this padam, Sindhu chose the famous tale of Tamil saint Nandanar, an ‘untouchable’ who is supposed to have ‘moved’ the giant Nandi in front of the Shiva statue in the Sivalokanathar Temple at Tirupunkur in Tamil Nadu, only through his devotion.

Despite not being allowed to enter the temple, Nandanar does and is terribly disheartened to see that the giant stone bull is blocking his view of the Shiva idol. He implores the Lord to let him have a glimpse of his face and that is when the Nandi is said to have miraculously moved sideways. Even today, the Nandi in the temple is placed in a strange position with marks on the stone floor of something heavy having been pushed.

“My student could not stop his tears while performing this song, and neither could the audience. After the performance, every one of them talked only about this padam. And it proved my point about the supremacy of emotions. Nobody cared whether my student stuck to the structure of the dance; all they remembered were the tears,” she says.

Sindhu believes that dance and music must be included in the mainstream curriculum and only then will the audience of the future be able to assimilate its beauty fully. “Dance opens up minds and dissolves inhibitions. Isn’t that what education is supposed to do?” she asks. Indeed.

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