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Classes for the masses

Gopika Varma, whose shooting for a TV serial on classical dance is due to begin this week, feels it is the audience, not the arts in danger of disappearing. In Delhi recently, she told ANJANA RAJAN about her efforts to preserve the endangered species.

Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

Gopika Varma in New Delhi. Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

THE MORE television programmes specialise in putrid soap operas and obscene music videos, the more classical artistes try to provide the masses with a different brand of entertainment that has some edification thrown in. Gopika Varma is embarking on such a feature as she starts filming this week for her 52-episode serial on Mohiniattam to be aired on Asianet. This Chennai-based Mohiniattam dancer who was in Delhi recently is reaching out to the masses in another way too. Married to Prince Marthanda Varma of the royal family of Travancore, Kerala, she is carrying on the tradition of that illustrious dynasty of serving the arts through the pursuit of their chosen form.

Recently she came out with a learning set for mudras or hand gestures used in Mohiniattam. The kit consists of a VCD and a book, and though Gopika is convinced that no one can learn dance from such tools alone, she feels the project, called "Hasta" will go a long way in familiarising laypersons with an aspect of classical dance that often baffles them. For students, it is a valuable reference, she points out, since the book - without which the VCD is no help, she warns - contains the complete list of hand gestures used in Mohiniattam with their 548 uses and shlokas in English, Malayalam and Sanskrit. Though it is not an entertainment VCD, but a lesson, she finds it is selling well in Chennai with both dancers and non-dancers.

As opportunities for classical dancers shrink, with limited patronage and a largely unappreciative public, Gopika realises it is imperative to create informed audiences. That is why she is making this TV programme, though it has not been easy to get sponsors. "One commercial house told me, `If you use film music, we will be glad to sponsor you,' but I do not want to compromise," says Gopika, who plans to show a short dance piece followed by informative narration by eminent dancers and critics. Padma Subramaniam, Chitra Visweswaran and Vyjayanthimala Bali have already agreed to appear, says Gopika, who also runs a school in Chennai called Dasyam, which will host its first solo debut in June. Here, apart from teaching Mohiniattam, she continues her outreach efforts by conducting lecture-demonstrations regularly.

Meanwhile, Gopika is busy researching and documenting the contribution of the Travancore royals to the arts. Best remembered are Swati Tirunal, the prolific music composer, and Raja Ravi Varma the painter, but there are others. "Kartika Tirunal Dharmaraja wrote the Balaramabharatam, an important text like the Natya Shastra. Many of the ranis also created compositions, for example, Lakshmi Bai. Maharaja Swati Narayana Pillai has also written. I am trying to propagate these kritis through my dance and choreography," says Gopika, adding that the reason these composers did not get the limelight they deserved is that as royalty, they did not take on disciples who would publicise their works. Also, "The family is so much against promoting ourselves. We are only patrons."

Now, there's a lesson many could do with!

For your home only

INTERIOR ESPANIA, a furniture store chain, has come up with its new range, Wenge. With a deep coca colour and a finish of veneer (bark of a tree) for "the style-seeking, design, and quality conscious customers," the range comprises wall units, beds, sofas, leather furniture, lighting equipment, bed linen, upholstery and other accessories. Nitin Bhayana, Espana's Vice President, Retail, says the range is designed by Spanish and Italian designers like Miguel Angel Ciganda, Pascual Salvador, Wroldsen and Toni Flores.

Asked why only the services of European designers are employed, Nitin says, "Furniture is totally a European concept, and they are good with designs and proportions. Their designers give furniture an aesthetic appeal that could never be out of style."

He adds, "They follow the minimum quality standard means. They give a finish to furniture according to the need of space without letting it look cluttered." He feels Indian designers too follow the same European styles now and so, the selection of European designers for the job will bring in styles that are both nationally and internationally contemporary. "The offices in Europe and India have the same looks," he says.

Available in colours like green, tomato red, stark white, cream, etc., the price of the range is between Rs.50,000 and 100,000.

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