‘Want to explore? This is the time!’
Srekala Bharath and ‘Ghatam’ S. Karthick on a musical trip
PHOTO: S.R. RAGHUNATHAN
There’s so much openness now that you need not fear expressing yourself ‘Ghatam’ S. Karthick
Srekala Bharath’s bond with Bharatanatyam began almost 35 years ago and she still brims with energy and enthusiasm to broaden her artistic perspectives. A disciple of guru K.J. Sarasa, the vibrancy of the Vazhvoor style comes through in the personality of this dancer, choreographer and teacher.
‘Ghatam’ S. Karthick has scaled musical heights with the humble pot. Trained by master-percussionist Vikku Vinayakram and T.H. Subash Chandran, Karthick has accompanied veterans as well as present day musicians. Besides, he has performed solo at prestigious venues, including the United Nations, has collaborated with international artistes, held lec-dems and has worked with top film music composers. “Heartbeat”, is a popular percussion ensemble set up by him.
There was never a dull moment when the duo, who had earlier worked together in a fusion recital, met for a Take Two at Park Sheraton., Chennai.
Chitra Swaminathan listened in.
Srekala Dr. Karthick (he recently completed his doctorate in Sanskrit), nobody can doubt your passion for ghatam. With so much weight you now resemble it.
Karthick You become what you think 24x7. Also, I worship Ganesha. (Both don’t stop laughing) Sometimes, people ask me whether I am Vikku sir’s son. They see some similarity between the two of us (besides of course the ghatam), may be because he is always on my mind.
Srekala Don’t you think gurus are god-sent? If the training is thorough, the rest will fall in place.
Karthick It even gives you strength to challenge yourself and go ahead with what you think is right. I used to stay close to Vinayakram sir’s house and was desperate to learn to play the ghatam. One day at around 8.30 p.m., I walked into his house. He was tired after spending a long day at his percussion school, yet was gracious enough to meet me. To my delight, he looked at my palms and immediately said ‘you can play the ghatam well’. I could not have asked for more as a seven-year-old.
Srekala I too was so eager to learn that I would sit watching the senior disciples perform and pick up the nuances. My guru would jokingly comment, ‘I don’t need to take a class for you.’ It was hard work but there was so much fun.
Karthick It should be that way. Rock, rap or raga, it should fill you with joy.
Srekala With melting cultural borders, artistes are being exposed to diverse art forms and audiences and they are inspired to give fresh interpretations to traditional concepts.
Karthick There’s so much openness now that you need not fear expressing yourself. If you are happy following what has been passed on to you, fine. If you want to explore, this is the time!
Srekala That’s how I went on to do “Mahila Mahima” depicting Andal, Avvaiyar, Rani of Jhansi, Kannagi, Mother of Pondicherry, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy and Rukmini Devi. And I was so happy about doing something different within the classical framework.
Karthick That is how “Heartbeat” was born too. I got together a group of people with the same ‘musical wavelength’ and an urge to find their own space. There’s Embar Kannan on the violin, U.P. Raju on the mandolin, Poongulam S. Subramaniam on the mridanam, Papanasam Sethuraman on the kanjira and N. Sundar plays the tabla and morsing. We have done several shows in India and abroad. And the response has pepped us up.
Srekala Why “Heartbeat”?
Karthick It signifies the first rhythm of life. Being a Sanskrit scholar many wondered why I chose an English name for my band. Simple, for a global reach.
Srekala Even some of your compositions have Anglicised names.
Karthick One of the pieces set in the unusual Ratipatipriya ragam is called “Pulse” while the one in Mallari is called “God’s Gait” (Mallari is played during temple processions). It’s also a way of attracting Gen Y, which thinks classical arts are not-their-kind. We need to make the packaging and presentation peppy to draw them in. For instance, during an outreach programme in Perth, I began by asking the young audience how many of them were hungry? They looked quite puzzled. Then I showed them the mridangam and said the left side is breakfast and the right lunch. They looked more puzzled. I then explained that the left side is coated with a paste of ground rava. Rava is used to make upma, a popular breakfast dish in south India. While the round black spot on the right side is coated with a paste of cooked rice, a staple of south Indians.
Srekala Sounds interesting. I have travelled all over and interacted with dancers abroad. I can say for sure that there’s nothing as complete and wholesome as Bharatanatyam.
Karthick Our Indian system of rhythm is so well-structured that once you have mastered it, you are ready to play any kind of music. Classicism is the seed. Without it you cannot rise up to the demands of the changing times.
Srekala Also, instead of being engrossed in your own work, see what others are doing. Seeing is learning. Even today I make it point to go and watch performances of other artistes.
Karthick That’s the best way to expand your horizons. Twenty-five per cent you learn from your gurus, another 25 by yourself, next 25 from your colleagues and the last 25 per cent you learn with experience.
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