Documentary by Satyajit Ray on Balasaraswati – Bala (1976)

Shri. Satyajit Ray (Image Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Smt. T. Balasaraswati performing in a concert (Image courtesy: Wikipedia)

Shri. Satyajit Ray in 1976, made a documentary on Smt. T. Balasaraswati titled “Bala”, when she was 58 years old! For the current generation of dancers who have only heard or read about her (link1) (link2). Some video snippets are available in Youtube as well. The one I found very interesting is where one can find her soulful singing to her daughter, Lakshmi Knight’s performance. However, today a blogger Minai has posted the entire documentary in Youtube for all of us to see, enjoy and cherish. Minai says

I rarely post entire films, but I’m presenting this one for not only the educational value of discussing it here but also because it is an important archival recording of a critical figure in the history of India’s classical dance traditions.

which I completely agree with. Since it is these rare archives that I personally think not only enhances a Bharatanatyam dancer’s view point but also allows the current and future generations to get a glimpse and understand the turbulent (if I can say so) history of this dance form.

Some interesting details from the blog are being quoted below.

2:07 – Bala demonstrating hand gestures 3:57 – Bala singing and performing abhinaya 7:00 – Bala speaking in English  8:29 – An elderly Uday Shankar speaking about Bala 9:58 – Bala’s Krishna Ne Begane Baro dance by the ocean 18:58 – Bala’s varnam dance with her musical ensemble

At 7:46 – Shri V. Raghavan speaking about Bala as well. The varnam is Bhairavi Varnam “Mohamaana” on Tyagaraja swami of Tiruvarur. Here is the Youtube link: Bala (1976) Satyajit Ray Documentary and the blog post that has more details.

If you scroll down the post you see some interesting feedback by Avanthi Meduri on the documentary

In the excellent article “Multiple Pleasures: Improvisation in Bharatanatyam,” Avanthi Meduri notes that “Balasaraswati was particularly celebrated for her rendition of the padam known as Krishna Ne Begane Baro” which means “Krishna, hurry into my embrace” and is improvised with a fresh interpretation each time the phrase is repeated.  Meduri then discusses the padam’s film version in Ray’s documentary and takes issue with Ray’s placement of the dance performance with a live ocean backdrop.  She asks, “Did the director situate Bala against this backdrop as a way to naturalize and essentialize the dance, to evoke notions of cosmic plenitude, timelessness, and infinitude? Or did he desire merely to spiritualize and idealize both the dancer and the dance?”  She feels that, regardless of Ray’s good intentions, the performance falls flat because Bala is “separated from immediate engagement with her musical ensemble, which had always supported and accompanied her live performances.

And two recent documentaries available in Youtube. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this documentary. I hope you enjoy it too!!! If you did, do post your comments.

My two cents: When did Hamsasya hasta become Mayura hasta? or did I miss something here? (See second comment below!!!) Although, I am grateful to Shri. Satyajit Ray for the awesome documentary, my final thoughts are in line with questions raised by Dr. Avanthi Meduri!!! In any case, I am thankful for the documentary.

4 responses to “Documentary by Satyajit Ray on Balasaraswati – Bala (1976)

  1. On second thoughts, I wish the documentary had her talking about her Manodharmam while performing. Alas, none of it…Hmmm.

  2. In the book “Bharatanatyam” (published 1959) authored by T. Balasaraswati and V. Raghavan there are drawings of single hand gestures, where Mayuram is shown as what we know. However, Hamsasyam and Samdhansham are different.
    According to this book:

    Hamsasyam, made by thumb touching the fore finger and second finger together, extending the rest (identical to Katakamukham)

    Samdhansham is made by touching the thumb and fore finger and extending the rest (as seen in the video).

    So, the question comes, what about Katakamukham itself? It is shown as seen in the second video (0:47). I looked up Appa Rao’s book on Abhinaya Darpanam to dig deeper.

    Hamsasya hasta: In Page 231,

    “Madhyamadyah tryo-angulyah prasrta virala yadi |
    Tarjanyangushtha samsleshat karohamsasyako bhavet ||”,

    meaning ‘When the three fingers i.e. middle, ring and little fingers are separated and extended, the tips of the forefinger and the thumb joined, then it becomes Hamsasya hasta’. This is what we are acquainted with. However, according to another source,

    “Slishtagramadhyamangushtha tarjanyo yatra prasaritou |
    Anamika kaniyamsou sa hamsasya karo bhavet ||”

    meaning ‘When the tips of the forefinger, the middle finger and the thumb are joined and the rest are extended, it becomes Hamsasya hasta’.

    Samdhandham hasta: In page 238,
    “Punah Punah padmakosah samslishto viralo yadi |
    Samdamsabhidha hasto-ayam kirtito nrtya kovidaih ||”,

    meaning ‘When the fingers of padmakosha hasta are repeatedly in quik succession are joined and separated, it is Samdamsa hasta’. However, This is what we are acquainted with. However, according to another source

    “Hamsasya madhyama bahya yadi samdamsako bhavet”,

    meaning ‘if the middle finger of hamsasya hasta is outstretched, it becomes Samdamsa hasta’.

    Ok. so what is the final point?

    1. T. Balasaraswati has most probably followed the Abhinaya Darpanam edited by Madabhushi Tiruvenkatacaryulu of Nidamangalam, Tanjore dist (makes sense!). He added 408 verses to the existing AD. For each hasta, he added the variation from another source as ‘gramdhantare’. Nida did not give any info as where is another source came from. However, the description of the “hasta” in the documentary are not clear enough to me to place it from which source. 😐

    2. The narrator in the Satyajit Ray’s documentary has mistook samdhansham (not Hamsasyam) as Mayuram.

  3. Thats interesting RY.

    I thought we had enough variation in the nomenclature of adavus.. Hastas were something I had taken to believe that experts agreed on…with atleast with the gestures as such, even if not totally with the viniyogas.. Now here you show us that consensus wasnt the norm in this area too!

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