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Master of moves

She has got almost every actor, junior and senior, to dance to her beats. Meet Kala Master



PERSISTENCE PAYS Kala Master Photo: V. Ganesan

Being one of seven daughters in a middle class family is not a situation that encourages mega dreams. But Kala could dance, and her sister married Raghuram, the dance master. Add a third one — she had a high persistence quotient. While in Standard VII she fought to accompany Raghu on his choreography shoots. At 12, she appointed herself as his assistant. Before she wrote her Standard XII exam, she had become his permanent sub. She stood in for Raghu during "Punnagai Mannan", and when "Pudu Pudu Arthangal" came her way, Assistant Kala converted to Kala Master. P. Vasu, R. V. Udaykumar and Bharathiraja called her for choreograph contracts. Kala set the dances for "Manasukkul Mathappu" and "Chinnappuve Mellappesu".

For three years (1987-90) she worked for Tamil films, followed it with Telugu and Malayalam movies. In the 15 years since her first independent assignment she has got almost every actor, junior and senior, hopping, skipping, jumping and turning to her beats. From 1994 to 2001 she grabbed every offer, at one point driving 60 km every day between the Hindi version of "Thevar Magan" and the dance sequences of "Vanaja Girija". For the 1996 Miss World extravaganza, she lined up 320 city college students and choreographed a classical number. "I was 26, but I was sharp." She filled the gap between assignments giving dance lessons and in two years was ready for her first "show".

"I was the first to start a cinematic dance school," she says. "My sisters and I manage five branches now." Movies gave her the break but it's stage dance that gives her satisfaction. It allows her freedom to experiment. "The Prashanth programme in Malaysia, a big show with 7 heroines, telecast to global audiences, pushed me to stardom." Kala's merit is in popularising a peculiar dance form, cobbled together with borrowings from classical, Indian folk, bhangra and western steps. In a measure of luck, her cine-dance happened when we were breaking our cultural clichés. With talent and hard work, Kala evolved and stabilised an art form most suited to that time. In doing that she captured the imagination of the young. Her brand of dance gave everyone a chance. "But to be a regular choreographer, you need a classical foundation," says Kala. "Remember Jyotika in `Chandramukhi'?"

She has no problems teaching super stars. "I set the movements according to their figure and style. They know I'll not spoil their image. With the younger ones like Jayam Ravi, Dhanush, Surya, Ajit, Puja, Vindhya and Trisha, why they are all my students! They had better do what I tell them!"

The one project she counts as special achievement is training 700 policemen to shed their stiffness and move with grace. "I had just eight days. End of first day, I couldn't sleep. How would I get them to dance? But a great master is one who can make non-dancers dance." She "loved it," when at the end of the show they made a perfect formation in Tamil.

She has won the State and National awards, Filmfare and Screen awards. Hollywood may not yet be ready for her type of dance. So a cine dance institute looks like a good idea to give her art a permanent place to thrive. "Stage shows are risky," she says. "You need to sustain audience attention." Without compromising costumes? "Yes," she is vehement. "I should appeal to all ages. So I design them myself. I have also learned camera angles and computer editing."

I work fast, she says. "Once the job is done, I'm a lazy bone. I can't stand indiscipline, insincerity and lying. I just go ballistic. I'm not influenced by anyone. I definitely don't watch MTV or SS. My choreography is my own. I struggled hard. When other girls were hanging around or chatting, I was planning the next steps on stage. I am grateful to my parents for allowing me to follow my star. And my sisters — we are good friends. My greatest happiness is performing for social causes."

GEETA PADMANABHAN

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