Chennai and Tamil Nadu
A tale of fortitude
Honoured and celebrated, the Chandrasekhars have had a rocky climb to the heights of dance.
It’s very important for people to see the dance and not the dancer
Photo: M. Karunakaran
ARDUOUS JOURNEY: C.V.Chandrasekhar with his wife Jaya.
There is hardly a professional field in which women have not had a tough time. So when you hear of men as the aggrieved party in a discussion of gender bias, you wonder how the tables turned.
Bharatanatyam seems to be one area in which they have. At least, this situation comes to light poignantly when Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer and music composer C.V.Chandrasekhar talks about his journey in the arts.
Trained in music
“I’ve faced brickbats, atrocious reviews, not about my dance but about my being a man,” says the renowned guru who spent several decades at Baroda University and retired as Dean of the Faculty of Performing Arts in 1992. Chandrasekhar, who besides dance is trained in music under stalwarts like Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal, M.D.Ramanathan and others, feels his long stint in North India helped sustain his dance, because here, male Kathak dancers are a common sight. In the South, its ancient traditions of Kathakali, Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi (whose gurus and practitioners were usually men) notwithstanding, the preference is for female performers.
“It’s very important for people to see the dance and not the dancer,” says Chandrasekhar.
One of India’s first male dancers, whose performance career began in 1947, he has received numerous awards including Nritya Choodamani, Kalaimamani of the Tamil Nadu Government and most recently the prestigious Sangita Kala Acharya of The Music Academy. But the journey has been arduous.
He may have been a star pupil at Kalakshetra, training under Rukmini Devi Arundale, Karaikkal Saradambal, K.N.Dhandayudapani Pillai and others, but, he says, his school friends all made fun of him for attending dance class. But when Chandrasekhar says he has observed male dancers are better received when they partner women, he is not belittling the contribution of his own wife and dancing partner, Jaya Chandrasekhar. True, he always maintained his solo work as well, but the Chandrasekhars were a force to reckon with. One plus one made four, and during the 1970s and ’80s, they performed with their daughters Chitra and Manjari. A septuagenarian he may be, but Chandrasekhar’s agility and stamina put younger dancers to shame. Settled in Chennai for more than a decade now, Jaya is seen by his side off stage more often than on it.
“I’m still not accepting that I don’t dance. I was very sick, and people around me were more worried about me,” she explains. “From my side, I’ve not left dance. But then, I’m not the only dancer in the family,” she adds. A student of Lalitha Shastri, she has a strong link with the Capital. Studying dance in the now low-profile institution Sangeet Bharati in Mandi House, she remembers performing under the Sangeet Bharati banner with Rani Karna (Kathak) and Kapila Vatsyayan (Manipuri) in a 1956 programme at The Music Academy. “We did ‘Haririha mugdha vadhu’ in three styles,” she recalls. It is interesting to imagine what hype the programme would have engendered in today’s age of publicity.
But times have changed. Sometimes publicity comes uninvited. When the Chandrasekhars presented their choreographic work “Pancha Mahabhoota” in New Delhi for the Parampara festival a few years ago, a verbal request to video the proceedings for private viewing metamorphosed into a clandestine commercial venture.
A Chennai-based company, has been selling the recording without their permission for the past few years, they say.
The Chandrasekhars are in possession of a copy, but sheer ennui seems to keep them from taking legal action.
Such issues of propriety both on and off stage agitate the senior dancers. With artistes in search of newness and spectacle, they are often in the position of guiding lights.
Youngsters come to them for advice. Being elevated to a doyen can be dangerous. Who is to guide the elders?
“Once after a performance,” says Chandrasekhar, “my grandson told me, ‘Thatha, this time I thought you sat in less araimandi than in the last performance.’ I was so pleased.”
The child is the father of the man. And guru too.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu