'I am a survivor'
Anita Ratnam was recently honoured with the Vibrant Indian award in recognition of her contribution to the enrichment of art and culture. An interview with the danseuse.
She is geographically located on Cenotaph Lane, Alwarpet. But a more appropriate description of Anita Ratnam's current locale would be cloud nine. The reason, Developer's India, an organisation for " India's development, progress and amity", has honoured her with its "Vibrant Indian" award in recognition of her "unique contribution to the enrichment of art and culture and harmonising with a creative vision." As congratulatory messages pour in, don't expect her to complain about the burden of fame. For she revels in it.
With a face that reveals boundless energy and a smile that radiates friendly vibes, Anita gushes, " This is one of those rare honours from outside the artistic fraternity. Such awards make me feel worthy of my work and re-charges my spirit. At the same time, responsibilities double with recognition."
Actually, the award turns the spotlight on another facet of the dancer-choreographer - that of a cultural activist. Over the years, this Arangham Trust founder has aligned herself with several NGOs and helped them raise funds and conceived special shows with themes relating to social awareness ("Manasi", "Suvadu" and "Uma" to name a few). Nevertheless, these social spin-offs too like most of her productions are based on the germ of myth, which she feels is so integral to our lives. "An artiste is primarily a communicator. We too respond to the socio-political happenings in our own way. For instance, Arangham Trust's forthcoming bilingual production revolves round war and its impact on women. Again, it's innovative. I would call it choreo-theatre," she discloses in an interview.
For Anita, her artistic endeavour (she calls herself a cultural entrepreneur!) is not an isolated goal. It is built around her holistic view of life and that all-consuming philosophy of individualism. "It's time for us to re-examine our system of training artistes. Genuine gurus are a vanishing tribe. What we are left with are teachers. As a result, artistes are growing to be mere linear personalities not well-rounded ones. Success comes with struggle and perseverance and not with instant gratification," she says making a dig at the younger generation.
A consummate showwoman and a challenger of clichés, Anita admits that it had "taken a long time to be accepted by the artistes' community. I was charged with corrupting classicism. People sniggered at the idea of The Other Festival. Some even prevented their students from working for me." Yet, she moved on with courage and conviction for her art. "I am a survivor. But a survivor must also thrive... If you recall, I wasn't an established artiste in the field in my prime. For 10 years, I had given up dancing and switched to television in the U.S. On my return to India, I did not want to take to solo performance. I chose a different path and tried to bridge the gap between the traditional and the contemporary. For me, it is important to try, unmindful of whether I fail or win. As artistes we also have to think of the next generation of audiences".
About her dabbling in tinseldom, Anita who played a fine cameo in "Kandukondain Kandukondain" says, "Right now, I am examining two scripts. In fact, I did have an offer to play Manisha Koirala's mother in "Baba". But I turned it down because the dates clashed with my daughter's board examinations and I needed to be with her. Nevertheless, I don't want to play the typical grey-haired, sobbing mom or evil mother-in law. Let's see, I have an open mind... "
A woman of many talents, Anita will soon start work on her first book on Indian culture. "An offer has just been made. And I am confident this will lead to a series of works." That's not all, her website www.narthaki.com is highly successful with over two lakh hits per month.
For someone with schizoid schedules, how does she play the balancing act necessitated by overlapping roles? "Well... it is a tightrope walk. If one takes two steps forward, you are forced to take a step backward in order to balance. That's ok. Because what's important is that you must not fall off".
Not one to smile and resort to vaporous abstractions, Anita fielded a question on the artiste community with characteristic candour. "Most artistes think they are some exalted beings. In fact, I often joke that artistes specialise in the tenth rasa - the smug rasa. It is time for us to unite and put in concerted efforts in developmental activities - like for instance, taking the initiatives to build a state-of-the-art auditorium or introducing a degree in classical dance. We need to lobby. The Mahabalipuram festival has gone to the pits. It has to be privatised and elevated to the level of the Khajuraho fest."
And what exactly keeps her going during difficult times? "I guess it's my ability to laugh... and look beyond those tangible moments. Not take myself, but my work seriously."
A spirited cocktail of grit, confidence and independence, Anita was honoured by Developers India, at a function in Russian Cultural Centre on April 9.
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