While she’s not dancing her way into people’s hearts, Indian National Award-winning actress and consummate performer Shobana is busy deconstructing the thoughts raging through her mind.
A holiday in the historically-rich Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex triggered the writer in this classical Indian talent.
“It was totally a love story between me and Cambodia… There were so many similarities between the temples there and our temples in India. I had to write about us and am writing the history in such a way that the younger generation in India can appreciate India’s rich monuments and sites,” said Shobana in an interview with Gulf News tabloid! ahead of her dance recital show ‘Bhav’ in Dubai on April 27.
The ‘Manichithrathazhu’ star hopes that her material — which will blend history with context — will be picked up for a web series that will acquaint millennials and culture vultures on the glorious relics and ruins in India.
A few weeks ago Paris witnessed a rare display of art appreciation as a massive fire toppled the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The blaze galvanised the entire city into action as deep-pocketed industrialists and ordinary donated more than €600m in less than 24 hours to help restore the 850-year-old building. Such a scenario where we scramble to preserve our cultural treasures may not happen elsewhere. It’s understandable, she adds.
“Right from school we are taught to compete and survive. Our priorities are different. We are told to do good math, lead the country, or go abroad and make million. You can’t blame anyone. That’s the way our children are trained … But what about other things like respecting women and liking your own culture first?” Her thoughts aren’t invalid and Shobana is doing her bit to promote Indian culture.
On Saturday in Dubai, the acclaimed danseuse and actress of over 200 films will roll out her dance musical Bhav. She will be joined by classical vocalists Abhishek Raghuram along with percussionist Anantha R Krishnan, Satya on the keyboard and the talented dancers from her dance school Kalarpana in Chennai. Excerpts from our interview with Shobana about her show, movie choices and more...
What should we expect from ‘Bhav’?
Firstly, I had a lot of fun doing this show. The onus is not on me entirely because the stage will be shared by a group of brilliant musicians like Carnatic vocalist Abhishek Raguram.
‘Bhav’ has an entertaining mix of audio visual and fast paced numbers. The beautiful thing about ‘Bhav’ is that it reaches out to a far more number than just the typical set of people who say they like classical music and dance. We are under the impression that anything classical is only meant for a selective audience and not the laymen. But, we don’t know who these so-called laymen are. In my eyes, either you appreciate art or you don’t. I have never put art or lovers of dance in a box. Yes, we follow The Natya Sastra, which is like a code or a bible with grammar and syntax for dancers. Even in The Natya Sastra book it says that a dance has been made for entertainment. So the question remains, how do you push it all by following the grammar of dance?
But there’s a perception that classical dance and music or something like an opera are for the purists. Your thoughts?
A: It’s about intellectualising a performance … Try not to go with pre-conceived notions. For instance, I don’t know much about opera. But if I decide to watch Pavarotti [the late Italian opera icon Luciano Pavarotti], it’s because I expect to enjoy an experience where I trust Pavarotti implicitly. I may not understand it fully, but I am likely to enjoy it … Similarly, any kind of dance has to grow on you. Why don’t you all give classical music and dance, the benefit of that doubt? In my experience, you tend to like something, if you are open to the idea of liking it. You just have to trust the artist.
My performances are about reaching out to as many people as possible. I don’t think ‘Bhav’ is meant for a certain type of audience alone. Anybody who loves great music, a good story and likes to see what India has to offer in an updated format is welcome. We are artists who think alike and have put together a programme where we showcase classical music in its brightest form keeping in mind what each story needs within a limited time.
Are the other musicians of ‘Bhav’ purists though?
A: What is a purist? We don’t know what the pure form of art is. What we see in sculptures was probably the purest of dance as there was no record for so many centuries. Believe me when you say something is old, there’s something older. In Bhav, Abhishek, Anantha and Satya all got together because we wanted to create a unique form of art. For us, it was never about ourselves. It was always about creating good music and dance. He never thinks of Bhav as my show or his show. For us, it was about communicating music and mood. We have an equation where we trust each other implicitly. Whether we are purists or not, it’s all about context. While I don’t know what is pure when it comes to music and dance. I can certainly say that film music is impure. Remember, just because something’s commercial doesn’t mean it’s impure or just because a show’s traditional does not mean it’s not commercial. As artists, we just want to do a good job and entertain the audience. We have the utmost respect for our audience.
When will we see you in a film next?
It’s not that I don’t’ want to be in a movie or that I am not getting any film offers. But a life of a dancer and an actor are two different lives. It demands two different ways of thinking and I find it tough to switch from one to the other. I have a home too and my world is not just about my dance or films. The scheduling for films is abrupt and they call suddenly wanting dates. I get booked for my dance shows at least a year in advance. And so, I cannot cancel tours for films. I am like a pivot and everything comes back to me. If I am not here one day, things can actually crash.
How would you describe Dubai and the UAE as an audience?
Be it Dubai, New York or Chennai, an urban city is an urban city where people are open to all kinds of music. There are people who tend not to be biased because there’s so much going on as opposed to small villages. The audience in the UAE are broad minded. They are acquainted with artists who do fusion and push boundaries. Just like the audiences in Chennai and Mumbai, the multiculturalism and openness to ideas is reflected in the audiences in Dubai too. And, the UAE is a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. Even if you are going to the cinemas to watch my movie, he or she is a bit more patient with me because I have managed to entertain them for so many years. It’s the same with classical music. The audiences in Dubai are exposed to different kinds of art forms. Even if you don’t understand anything, you may still enjoy it.
Don’t Miss It!
‘Bhav’ will be staged on April 27 at the Shaikh Rashid Auditorium, Indian High School. Tickets start at Dh75 and are available online.