Ever since I blogged about Shanta Rao and her vintage photos, I added to my wishlist to see her dance videos. There are some firsts for which she was famous, namely the first Indian female student in Kalamandalam for learning Kathakali; first exponent of Mohiniattam to perform on stage; and of course one of the first non-hereditary dancer to storm Bharatanatyam.
I had an inkling that someone must have a video that shows us a glimpse of her dance, her art and about herself. I had to wait no more, when I came across the webcast page of India International Centre (IIC), Delhi. Thanks to them, we now can look at Shanta Rao’s dance and her views on dance.
First, I should congratulate IIC for embracing newer technologies for propagating their activities to people outside Delhi and outside India. Kudos to them and others who would follow IIC’s lead in the future.
Most of the photographs shown in the video are from the book “Dances in the golden hall” published by ICCR. This book took 20 years to publish! But there are other rare photographs found with Kamaladevi Chattophadaya’s collection. Also, photographs taken of her last performances. The author Ashoke Chatterjee gives an engaging talk ending with two videos of Shanta Rao’s dance. Scroll down for time stamps of interesting parts of these video.
While I came to know about Shanta Rao through Sunil Kothari’s article and Ashish Khokar’s column, and now and then when someone would mention her name. But, that there was a paucity of available video resources in the web about her that made it difficult to get a glimpse.
Well, last year I found some vintage photos of her, which I now realize that it was taken by Sunil Janah, who was THE photographer that she allowed to take photographs of her.
Like T. Balasaraswati, she disliked anyone taking photos or videos of her. Ashoke Chatterjee says
[Shanta Rao] had absolute phobia of film
There is a tinge of sadness attached with these videos. Although she knew that videos existed of her dancing, she had never seen it, ever! After a three year struggle when Ashoke Chatterjee sent her the copies of the videos the unopened package was by her bedside, after she passed away. But, the phobia was not the only reason for the paucity of materials. The other reason is that Shanta Rao was not a “Page 3” person, no hype made in dance market. In other words, they did not chase fame and did not like being in the limelight. It may because of these that no one talks or remembers about her (except those who know her), although at one point of time she WAS the cultural ambassador of India, specifically Bharatanatyam.
Based on the material I found, the videos were screened at Delhi, Bangalore, and Chennai (Samavesh 2011). Reporting about the event in Chennai, Nandita Prabhu and Shruthi KP say
Shanta Rao’s dance has always been debatable and within the room of current generation there was no room for her Bamanrithyam, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, or Bharatanatyam. They hardly looked similar to what has been practiced now. Friends looked fondly, learners guffawed critically, and artistes watched objectively.
Writing about the same event Madhushree writes
Frankly, I had a strange feeling about Shanta Rao’s style of Mohiniyattam. It is of course a completely personal view, but to me, she looked much more comfortable and beautiful off-stage, as she played with a swan next to a lake in one of those videos. Her broad smile, fearless and frank, made her much more attractive to me than her performance, where she looked stiff and lacked the continuous flow of Mohiniyattam, at least to my novice eyes.
The writer C S Lakshmi aka Ambai said
I lived in Bangalore when Shanta Rao was still performing. Even in those days, I admired her a lot; looking back, she almost seems like a superhuman figure because she did something that nobody dared to do at that time.
These thoughts about her dance was perhaps not new for the audience then. As Ashoke Chatterjee mentions, controversy has always followed Shanta Rao. The accusation that she had “stiff” “exaggerated” “too masculine” movements, and that Kathakali’s influence was seen more prominently, was vehemently opposed by her guru and herself. Her Bharatanatyam guru Meenakshi sundaram Pillai is quoted as saying
[Shanta rao is] one pupil he had who understood his art and in whom he trusted in whatever he had learnt
Kathakali was what she learnt first and simultaneously she learnt Bharatanatyam and then Mohiniattam. Talk about learning three different styles at the same time! Also, she learnt Kuchipudi and later revived a dance form called Bhamanrityam which unfortunately have no takers today. As with Bharatanatyam, in Kuchipudi as well there was controversy surrounding her. In a profile about Vepamti Chinna Satyam, it says
Chinna Satyam put his heart and soul to it and taught students from 7 am to 1 pm and from 4 pm to 8 pm. After the class he used to teach Shanta Rao until 10 o’clock at night. Shanta Rao became very demanding and possessive. Some of Chinna Satyam’s students like Yadavalli Rama and Chandrakala made rapid progress and won praise, but Shanta Rao did not like it. It was the worst time of Satyam’s life. He was in the grip of an enchantress who was extremely jealous. She wanted his art to be kept for her disposal only.
Some information about her interaction with Vempati Chinna Satyam is mentioned by Ashoke Chatterjee in the video as well. But, the quote above does make a sensational headline!
The main reason to put these videos here is to look at Bharatanatyam’s history objectively. Of course, she is not dancing like how most of us do, including all the three styles seen in the video. Whether one likes the way she dances or not, she cannot be ignored from the pages of dance history for the contribution she made. I liked the black and white video, but I love the BBC documentary, since one could see her in color and also her views on dance! What do you guys think of her dance? Send us your feedback.
Click on the image below to go to the video link. For ease of readers, scroll down to see timestamps of the video.
Time stamps of the webcast and the videos:
|0:00||Kapila Vatsyayan introducing about Shanta Rao and her interactions with her.|
|3:25 – 3:28, 4:01-4:10, 4:20-4:34, 5:06-5:46||No audio|
|6:18||Ashoke Chattarjee’s talks about 20 years in the making of the book “Dances of the Golden Hall”|
|14:56||He recounts his experience of seeing Shanta Rao’s dance, which he considers as a turning point in his life.|
|16:00||Role of Sunil Janah in documenting Shanta Rao’s life through photographs|
|17:18||His struggle to get the video recordings, taking him three years|
|19:00||Shanta Rao’s childhood photos|
|21:06||Shanta Rao with Vallathol|
|21:53||Shanta Rao with Rammuni Menon|
|22:00||Discusses her “quality of steel”ness and “masculine” Bharatanatyam . Here arangetram in Madras museum, jewels lent by MS Subbulakshmi|
|25:13||Rare photos from Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay collection.|
|28:00||Her passion for Mohiniattam, learning from Krishnan Panickker. Status of Mohiniattam when she started learning.|
|37:00||Bhama sutram and Bhama nrityam (Is that a photo of her with Vempati Chinna Satyam?)|
|39:38||Last trip to Japan in 1997, her performance photos from same year (attended by Ramgopal and others)|
|41:34||Her final days|
|45:00||First video of Shanta Rao dancing (telecast on April 10, 1955 on CBS-TV)When she visited US and performed at Museum of Mordern Art (MoMA), NYC. From Omnibus archives.47:31 – Introduced by Yehudi Mehnuin,51:37 – Shanta Rao performs an Alarippu, followed by55:03 – a telugu padam “Chaliyani”, spoken by Shanta rao|
|60:07||Second video of Shanta Rao dancing (highly likely to be shot in 1977 when she toured Europe)An excerpt from BBC documentary “Shanta’s World of Indian Dance”.61:23 – Shanta Rao performing second half of “Natanam Adinar”65:50 – Shanta Rao performing Mohiniattam70:58 – performing Bharatanatyam first half of “Natanam Adinar”76:55 – She talks about her Kathakali training
80:33 – She performs “Ambapali” aka Amrapali in Kathakali (Ambapali was debuted not in India, but in US and Israel in 1957!)