Treading different paths with Geeta Chandran

Three years back Bharatnatyam danseuse Geeta Chandran was awarded the Padmasree for her outstanding contribution to classical dance. But she reveals a sense of responsibility that she feels she has been vested with. “Awards do make you feel nice but then it also means that the society expects more from you now. You start working to set a new benchmark”.

The jouney was not planned. Geeta fondly recalls the day when she paid obeisance to her guru Smt. Swarna Saraswaty, sister of the legendary Bala Saraswaty. “My mother handed me a tray with the dakshina, a coconut and betel leaves and asked me to touch the feet of my guru. I did not know then that I was being surrended to this beautiful art for a lifetime”.
Geeta has been daring, often choosing unconventional themes for her performance. But she says that bringing out social issues through art is purely a personal choice and an artist should be under no compulsion to go for it. “When I decided to bring out issues like drug addiction and discrimination against the girl child, it was becasue of what I saw happening to some of my close friends. It touched me very deeply and my art reflected that concern. There might be concerns regarding the purity of the art form when innovation creeps in. But at the end of the day, there is only good art and bad art. The shelf life of the art will prove it. My teachers gave me freedom and never attempted to impose narrow creative rules on me, which still helps me chart my own course. But invention always needs great control”.
Bharatnatyam has often been about telling mythological tales. But Geeta chose to be different even while retelling the epics through her performances. A few years back, she attempted telling an alternative tale of the Ramayana through her theatre production ‘Kaikeyi’, done in association with Rashid Ansari. “There are some female mythological characters who have fascinated me. Characters like Mandodari, Urmila and Kaikeyi are not oft-discussed like Sita or Draupadi. I was profoundly impressed by Kaikeyi. She was not yet another docile princess. She was mighty enough to face the asuras and save her husband in battles. She loved Ram more than her own son. The circumstances under which Dasaratha declared Ram his successor were not obvious. After all, every mother tries to safeguard the interests of her son. ‘Kaikeyi’ was an attempt to see the epic through her lens.”

Today, she is fussed with whatever is happening in the name of dance in the popular media. “When I am invited for functions in schools, I make it a point to ensure that there will be some performance of a classical art form. One cannot expect me to sit and clap for some cheap item number”.
Geeta makes it clear that she is not at loggerheads with mainstream Hindi cinema. “The problem with performing movie songs is that it stops a student from thinking creatively. You shut innumerable options in the realm of classical and folk art by asking them to dance on movie songs. Art infuses a spirit of thinking. The students who come to learn from me know that I don’t provide packaged capsules to prepare them for some reality show because there is no magic wand in art. It is a slow and steady process”

Geeta enunciates that performance is just one aspect of dance. “Dance is about getting a deep understanding of philosophy to enhance the spiritual quality of the mind. It disciplines the mind and body of an artist and refines him from within. These aspects have been simplified way too far today”.
Today, the youth is largely uninitiated to the classical art forms. Geeta chips in to add “It is not just this generation. As a matter of fact, three generations have gone largely uninitiated to classical dance. The folk arts are being slowly strangulated. People are ignorant of the folk arts of their own district!”
What are the solutions she seeks to offer. “There should be community centres in every locality which celebrate the art forms presented by the local artists. Even the countries in the US and Europe have community centres presesrving the local art forms. There is an urgent need for a dedicated TV channel for the classical arts. It is disquieting that even a country like Romania has a dedicated TV channel for its arts and we, with an artistic past stretching over many a millenia, have none. By a channel, I do not mean another Doordarshan which no one bothers to watch. It should be atttractive and closer to the young eyes. In Delhi, we had Baraat Ghars which functioned as centres of art. Today they have all become marriage halls” rues Geeta.
Geeta discerns the practicalities of the current times. “We have to accept the fact that we are no longer in that era when the masters used to say that the viewers are blessed to watch the artists perform. We are in a market place competing for attention, the span of which is extremely low, with umpteen other attractive options. Hence packaging the art in an innovative way is the only way forward. Besides, advertising needs to be done on a professional level to gain presence”.
Geeta has many ideas for innovation in teaching as well. “Teaching has become a more democratic process today. I also invite other experts in this field to my class, who engage with my students in a positive dialogue. It opens many new perspectives to them. Besides, I accept the fact that no all of them will want to pursue dance throughout their life. But in the process they at least develop the ability to enjoy good art”.
The students start stepping into the room. Geeta politely excuses herself and gets busy with them. “An artist is not one who keeps her art to herself. She has to share it with the society. Every honour bestowed on me increases this feeling” she said at the beginning of our conversation. The sight I carry with me as I depart her residence only confirms her words.

(This interview was published in the Sunday Magazine I-Witness of The New Sunday Express)

One thought on “Treading different paths with Geeta Chandran

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  1. I liked her view on kids performing dance numbers for college functions. And hows she said the art form has bestowed her with the responsibility. That was a great interview

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