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Pratibha Prahalad’s love for the Lord

At a show organised in memory of Guru Kamla Devi Gangani, Bharatanatyam exponent Pratibha Prahalad testified her grip over the medium

Sonad Venu School organised a festival in memory of Guru Kamla Devi Gangani at the India Habitat Centre, this week. The event saw Bharatanatyam and Kathak performances by seasoned artistes.As is the custom, the young disciples of the school opened the show with a group invocation to lord Surya wherein they pictured the sunrise as the deity comes on his seven-horse drawn carriage. The nritta to swar bol was notable.

Pratibha Prahalad’s Bharatanatyam was the mainstay of the show. She took up a varnam and a padam from the customary repertoire. Going by the diverse audience of the Capital, her briefing in English on both the pieces was educative. The Bhairavi varnam “Mohamana” is quite a challenge for any dancer since the lyric is wrought with amorous innuendos, oscillating between explicit invitation to love and devotional praise.

Pratibha testified to her grip over the medium with her excellent abhinaya. Though the nritta part of the varnam was optimum, maintaining the mandatory three-cycle speed, etc, it was the expressive aspect of the piece that was handled with amazing artistry and maturity. There was no clinical trimming in depicting the erotic, yet there was not an iota of vulgarity either.

The starting viruttam (verse) extolling lord Shiva with exquisite postures was like a gesture to the devotional aspect underlying the varnam to come. The artiste in Pratibha was able to show the nayika (heroine) of this composition as an earthly soul pining for union with the supreme soul (God, here lord Shiva/Thyagesha). On the physical plane, she is a temple dancer who eschews a normal life and courts a symbolic wedded relationship to serve the deity within the sanctum. Hence her erotic feelings are to be viewed in a slightly exalted light. Portraying the arrival of a miffed beloved (lord Thaygesha), she made for a convincing picture of the pining nayika suddenly evincing pleasure at seeing Him, yet perplexed by his moodiness and all the time unable to shed her inherent charm and suggestive body language.

The slightly off-colour lord also incites mirth and concern to cajole Him back to normalcy so that both are pleased with each other! It was her expertise at shringara that came to the fore as the dancer displayed varying emotions with elan. The introduction of processional deity, a la Mallari, was picturesque. A love-lorn woman’s reference to Cupid and his flower arrows (Maran in Tamil), the wind (Maruta), the cuckoo bird pair as extraneous factors to trouble her, was shown with ringing clarity.

Her second piece, a bold and beautiful Telugu padam, garbed in sarcasm was also dealt with fine artistry. The song depicts a Krishna-beloved turning around and boldly spelling out ‘open secrets’ on the other known women who comment on her infidelities behind her back. She rips them down individually by revealing their secret paramours chastising them all the while. The graceful, swinging gait with which Pratibha enters was a pointer to the theme. Her surreptitious glances of a woman in prayer, the malicious questioning of another woman’s child’s legality, emulating behind-the-back scenario made for a lively interpretation of the song. However, Thanjavur Keshavan’s power-packed nattuvangam did not find a corresponding echo in the nritta.

An eulogy to Krsna, Guru Harish Gangani’s solo was marked by deft footwork and irresistible gestures. Be it abhinaya or show of intricate technicalities of Kathak, the artiste was grace and strength personified. His rigorous chakkars and racy footwork were amazing. The combinations and permutations within taal dhamar established his forte with footwork delineations and expressive dance. India Habitat Centre played host to the performances.

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