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Shobhana changing track

Shobhana feels she's done everything possible in dance, in films. She tells K. PRADEEP that she got bored and is now on a `new lease of creative life'.


SHOBHANA SPEAKS hurriedly. Very often she breaks into speech only to halt rather abruptly, switching thoughts, choosing the right word. Sometimes she even tends to brush off a question with a wave of her hand and a monosyllable that clearly expresses her disapproval. Then, at the very next moment, you find her elaborating on the same idea for quite a while, till she stops almost bored. One notices in this extremely talented artiste a bit of restlessness, an urge to establish an identity.

"In films I think I did everything possible in dance. There were many people who were weaving scripts around me for my dancing acumen. In one of the films, I play a handicapped girl and yet there was a sequence in which I break into a dance. Probably, they had their reasons. That was when I got bored. In the little time that I have, there are so many things to do, things that interest me. I'm now on my own voyage, a new lease of creative life," says Shobhana, perhaps explaining the reason for a rather long sabbatical from films and this jumpy state of mind.

There was a perceptible tinge of excitement when she talks of her second Urvasi Award and getting set for the award function to be held in New Delhi in February. "I'm not signing films left, right and centre. There is one project at hand now. I play a dancer in Pamela Rooks' Dance Like A Man. It is not that regular dancer role... .Ya, it is the same one based on the play... .the trials and tribulations of an unsuccessful dancer."

Like so many dancers before her Shobhana is provoked into a chapter of rediscovery in an art form which she now attempts to redefine. With the world today demanding openness, forcing one to interact with others, Shobhana realises the need to do something. "I find myself phasing out, engaged in creating music or dance. I want to be totally dependent. It is not a question of how many pieces I have composed by now. I'm talking of very small things, just beginning to do something. I'm also working on other forms with other artistes... . I'm responding to changes... every artiste should."

These changes have brought about a sea change in the concept and execution of dance. For the multitudes this change is reflected in revived forms of classical and folk dance forms in cinema. There are many who complain that dance ahs been degraded as never before. The modern day dance choreographer in cinema hardly bothers to think up something original and that there is nothing distinctive either in style or substance. "What we have in cinema today is a new form of dance, a new form of energy. You need to look at everything with an aesthetic eye. Who is to say what is good and what is bad... Western music is music by itself... like world music, the sounds keep changing over the time. Same way our dance, in films, is a mixture of Indian folk, classical art, combined with a little bit of commercialism, showmanship, presentation, which is what entertainment is all about. Film dance is a different language altogether," Shobhana explodes in defence.

Maybe these changes have brought about the growing genre of modern dance, which questions the very foundations that classical tradition is built on. The consummately controlled graceful movements and artistic aspirations have come under attack as decadent, artificial and unnatural. "I haven't seen much of modern, contemporary dance in India. I think we have a lot of dancers, like Daksha Sheth, who I believe is fantastic, wonderful talent. But I, unfortunately haven't seen her to comment on it. I have seen a few, not by famous dancers, which were very average works. But I do know that we have a lot of artistes working which is fine for me," feels Shobhana.

A successful dancer and actress, Shobana now has a "third portfolio." She is now a teacher, who teaches on and off at her school, Kalarpana. "It is a small school, under a thatched hut, like I wanted it to be. I think this school is like the medical profession where you should build up your reputation, slowly. I teach only bharatanatyam, the only form I know. Ten years from now, I'll be older and it will then be quite difficult to differentiate between the three portfolios I hold," hopes Shobhana.

Bharatanatyam is traditionally a solo art form but today there is more of group shows. Shobhana attributes it to the changing times and certain circumstances. "The first reason is financial. A lot of money needs to be spent and how many can actually afford to keep spending money, promoting their children, for solo concerts? Today for a solo concert you may need to spend a minimum good Rs 10,000. How many times can one do that? And when a student trains for around 10 years she surely wants to perform. When you are 25 or so you can afford to think of the art and the classical aspects of the art. But when you are younger it is only a performance that matters. So, in order to give chances, teachers group the young dancers. I don't think there is anything wrong in that. There is a beauty in group choreography.

"There is no reason for a dancer to go solo. The arangetram tradition and the rules were set down by one person... somewhere down the line the Thanjavur or Pandanallur style has turned into a Bible... Maybe 100 years from now there will be a Madras or Alwarpet style. In those days everything was cheap and so tradition was followed. When parents come to me and insist on an arangetram, I don't care, for it is up to them. I do not insist on this at my school," says Shobhana.

Shobhana comes out as a very practical person, with considerations of time, effort, money, space and not pretending to be idealistic. She has, perhaps, come to realise that everything is based on give and take, involving active interaction and not on dependence that lasts forever ideally.

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