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SHASHANK AND PRIYADARSINI ON TRADITION, TRAVEL AND TECHNOLOGY

`You can't strike that perfect balance'

It's thrilling to convey emotions, especially through your eyes — Priyadarsini


If his diamond kadkans (ear drops) remind you of vintage musicians, her mukkuti's (nose stud) quaint charm makes you wish you had inherited one from your grandmother. It's not just about the ethnicity of their appearance or the art they have passionately made their profession. When it comes to creative exposition, the boyish-looking (he is 20 something) front-ranking flautist Shashank is adventurous and likes to be ahead of his time. While Bharatanatyam danseuse Priyadarsini Govind, who always puts her best face forward, (her abhinaya is a collage of emotions) is restrained and in-tune-with-time type. He gives music lessons on the phone to his overseas students and she recently brought out an audio CD-cum-DVD of varnams. A globe trotting Carnatic musician, Shashank lives for the most part of the year in Europe and America (he's even got an accent). Priyadarsini is preparing for her forthcoming U.S. tour. So three Ts (tradition, travel and technology) dominate the Take Two at GRT Grand. Chitra Swaminathan listens in.

Shashank: I was just a toddler when my flautist-father (then a professor of biochemistry in Bangalore) discovered my musical ability and made a conscious effort to expose me to classical tunes. I grew up watching him play the flute. I started training when I was six years old, initially in Carnatic vocal from Palghat K. V. Narayanaswamy. My debut kutcheri was at the age of 11. The most exciting and unnerving moment was when I performed at the Music Academy Sadas (1991) in front of 500 senior musicians.

Priyadarsini: For me too, dance was part of growing up. We are fortunate to have been groomed by our families in the classical arts and time-tested values.

Shashank: It's a scary situation though. You might or might not make it as an artiste despite years of training. At least these days you have the option of taking up teaching.

Priyadarsini: In that respect the family's decision to put you through a sound training matters a lot. You need a strong support system at home to keep your spirits high during those days of rigorous training. You are fortunate that your father gave up his job and focussed all his attention on shaping your career.

Shashank: My school too extended a lot of support. I would skip school many days and still would be welcome when I entered. No picnics or movies for me. It was only music and more music.

Priyadarsini: Is it only music even now? (smiles)

Art-talk at home

Shashank: I think it's become more channelled after Shirisha's coming into my life (he got married to Shirisha, a Bharatanatyam dancer from Bangalore, last month). I was keen on marrying an artiste. For even if she does not make a career of her art, her grounding in it could help build a harmonious relationship. So it would be art-talk all the time at home. (Laughs aloud)

Priyadarsini: Don't you think it is essential for artistes to go out, meet people and observe life? You never know where your inspiration and ideas come from.

Shashank: May be it could help dancers choreograph something new. But how does it matter to musicians, who are supposed to restrict themselves to traditional compositions? The flute is perceived as a difficult instrument because it cannot be tuned and coordinating breath with fingering is not easy. I improvise a lot on stage like most instrumentalists do. You know, Western composers think in terms of stories like dancers do. There is always a logical expansion or progression in their work. I have seen you perform many times, your flexibility amazes me. (her slim frame belies the fact that she is the mother of two teenagers) You also seem to revel in the abhinaya aspect of dance.

Priyadarsini: Even now I go to Kalanidhi mami (abhinaya exponent) to learn the finer aspects of abhinaya. It's thrilling to convey a range of emotions, especially through your eyes. Abhinaya is the only aspect that lends itself to improvisation on stage. Rest of it is rehearsed.

Shashank: I have always enjoyed watching dance performances. (Now you have no other go, she laughs) But wonder what happens when the musician or the nattuvangam artiste misses a sequence?

Priyadarsini: Simple, make some instant adjustments. Dancers constantly strive for that perfect understanding with members of the orchestra. So much of our time is spent on rehearsals to blend laya, tala, nritta and abhinaya. So much so, it's difficult to distinguish one from the other. With technology, training has become less arduous these days. The varnam DVD-CD that I have brought out serves as a ready reckoner for students and teachers. It has 250 varnams, which include old and modern compositions. Some of them have been practically demonstrated along with the translation of the text.

Lessons on phone

Shashank: I too keep in constant touch with my students by playing through the speaker phone. Though it is not the ideal method, at least they don't miss out on lessons. Time should never be a constraint while learning an art. I remember KVN teaching me a Bhairavi varnam for six months. In fact, in four years I learnt only nine compositions from him. Travelling around the world has broadened my vision. It has given me valuable insights into various art forms. What's more, it has changed my lifestyle. I hate untidy homes, and throw a fit if things are not organised and aesthetically arranged. (Shirisha had better watch out, smiles Priyadarsini)

Priyadarsini: Much has been said about how challenging it is for a woman to play multiple roles. But I think you can never strike that perfect balance if you are an artiste. Invariably, your first priority will be your art. Sometimes, I feel guilty that I did not guide my 16-year-old daughter to pursue dance seriously. She gave it up halfway through.

Shashank: After such an artistically stimulating exchange, I think both of us should work together some day. There is so much to explore. I don't mind calling myself a non-traditionalist. Art never grows if we stick to a set pattern. There is nothing wrong in tagging on something of our own to what already exists. In fact, I am working towards realising my dream of playing Mozart and Beethoven on my bamboo flute.

Priyadarsini: That is truly music to my ears!

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