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Thakka Dhimmi Tha (TDT)
-Viewing dance through the Television lens….
- Preetha Subramanian (M S - Ohio University) interviews Radhika Shurajit
Photo: Avinash Pascricha

April 26, 2005
Eldest of the renowned “Trio Sisters”, Radhika Shurajit is an established performer, teacher and choreographer of Bharatanatyam. A disciple of the Dhananjayans and Kalanidhi Narayanan, Radhika has conceived and directed many shows for television, stage, and films. Some of her more notable works in films include: “Indira”, “Swarnamukhi”, “Azaghi”, “Ivan”, “Solla marandha kadai”, etc

About TDT:
This Dance based Television program, which is currently being aired on JAYA TV, has created quite a lot of ripples in the dance circuit. This is the first televised dance program of its kind, enjoying a run into its 4th year. Its success mantra is its unique program structure comprising innovative and interactive segments, which keep viewers tuned in. All these aspects prompted me to have a tête-à-tête with the brain behind the programme. What follows are the responses I got to my questions from the director and producer of TDT, Radhika Shurajit, who, by the way, also conceived the original presentation.

Taking Bharatanatyam from the stage to a bigger medium like television where the viewership is at least a 1000 fold higher is a very big step! What prompted you to take this step?
Well! There are two reasons for this. Firstly, after having learnt, performed and taught a dance form like Bharatnatyam for several years, I had come to a stage wherein the same traditional pieces did not enthuse me anymore. I wanted to break away from the predictable approach and portray the art form (of course without altering its grammar) differently. This prompted me to try out new literature in dance. I can say I was bold enough to try MLV's film song and choreograph it into a dance piece for a production. Secondly, I have always been a big movie buff since childhood. Veteran actor Shivaji Ganeshan's acting and versatile actor Savithri's expressions left me enthralled. Films left deep impressions on my mind. I used to enjoy the classical dances performed in old Tamil films. Naturally I was disillusioned when I saw a Bharatanatyam recital for the first time on television. I kept thinking why the same piece seemed striking when performed on stage, while it did not impress me to the same extent when performed on television. I wanted to analyze where the impressions became different. I kept questioning if the problem was with the medium itself or the artist or the viewer. I concluded that choreographies had to be redone for television. I knew dance and (I) was tele savvy. So I decided to use my intuitive aesthetics and integrate the two.

Do dancers feel claustrophobic performing to the same set of audiences, and are you prompted by the need to reach out to fresh sets of audiences, which motivated you into doing TDT?
For me it was motivation to reach out to the masses that made me think of taking dance to television. I always believed television was one of the most powerful ways of taking Bharatanatyam to the people. The reach of the lens is definitely much beyond the stage. I saw the same dwindling audiences, the connoisseurs and elite crowd in all the dance recitals. I strongly felt classical arts should reach the masses…There was a need to create new rasikas (dance lovers). I wanted to make the layman become aware of Bharatanatyam. I wanted to give the choice to people and let them take it or leave it. In fact, I had ventured into television even before “Thakka Dhimmi Tha”, with shows like “Neela kamalam”, “Pongal show” on Doordarshan Kendra, “Dhim Tari Kitta” on Jaya TV, etc.

Did you feel that the stage as a medium to showcase dance is lacking in any respect?
I do not think stage is a bad medium to showcase dance at all! In fact it is a very strong medium, which facilitates bonding between the performer and the audience. I believe nothing can replace the magic of a stage recital. It's just that since the numbers of rasikas attending stage recitals are declining, I feel the need to make masses to take a liking to this art form, through television. By doing this I am hoping viewers will be impelled to go see a live recital.

Any pioneering effort is bound to encounter obstacles! What were the stumbling blocks that you came across? How did you sell this idea/concept to your producers? Was it easy?
It wasn't easy. It was a big challenge because no production house was willing to even hear me out. Channels were very skeptical about my concepts. They did not expect a Bharatnatyam programme to be successful. Finally, I got my first major break through Jaya TV. Even before “Thakka Dhimmi Tha”, I did “Dhim Tari Kita” for Jaya TV. It was a non-commercial venture, to showcase Bharatham. Later Jaya TV wanted me to conceive and direct a different kind of a show. “Thakka Dhimmi Tha's” inspiration was the mini Tiffin in Hotel Saravana Bhavan!!! I learnt that for anything to be appealing, it should be well packaged. I knew it had to be a program mainly for youngsters wherein they get an opportunity to interact with “legends” in the field, while displaying their expertise and talent. Once, I'd worked out the details of the packaging, it was much easier to sell my concept.

TDT has completed four successful years of viewership. What do you think was your biggest USP for having come this far?
Giving something new to the audience every 26 episodes is the secret of TDT's success. I feel winning in this programme is incidental, but a programme will not be a hit if it doesn't sustain the interest of the audience. So I made it into a game show. These days there are so many young dancers who are deprived of Sabha performances. TDT provides opportunity to these youngsters. To make TDT appealing for all viewers, irrespective of whether they have any background knowledge about dance, I had to make it engaging and informative. I strongly felt people would watch a dance show if we cast a known anchor. To add glamour to the program, we brought in stars like Bhanu Priya, Shobana and Sukanya. This was in the hope of creating a new level of rasikas. Hence, the overarching objective of TDT has remained the same: “Education - Entertainment”.

TDT's personality has undergone a change; one can see changes being made in the format, in the last few episodes. What was the reason for this and how is the response?
Yes! Now we have Chitra Visweswaran teaching in one segment. Some minor changes in the format have been made because it has been my constant endeavor to hold viewers interest. We have a small segment wherein small tips, information about dance, etc., are shared. Whatever the changes, TDT is still an awareness program about dance. The format of the first classical segment has not been altered. The cinema song segment is positioned in the middle of the show. We have the experimental segment as our third. In the end we announce the winner of the episode. The response to these changes has been very, very good.

The success of any work like this requires co-operation and appreciation from fellow practitioners of Bharatanatyam. How has the response of the other dancers to TDT been so far?
Excellent! But for the support from the dance community this show would not have succeeded. Great legends like Chitra Visweswaran, Sudharani Raghupathy, etc., have supported me in this venture. I have not faced any problems in inviting the bigwigs to participate in this program. All my contemporaries in the field have come forward to help me. Even today whenever I approach any dance institute I get good response. They send me a list with the names of their students for the entire schedule. Therefore, metaphorically speaking, I strongly feel TDT is just a dot of a kolam…. I've just put the first dot. With the help of fellow practitioners and a big network, these dots will one day turn into a full/beautiful kolam.

What are your plans for the future of TDT?
There are plans to make TDT open for Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi, etc. I also want TDT shows to be hosted in other venues in India and abroad. Applications are pouring in from all major cities in India and the U S. Where this initiative takes us, only time can tell.

Are you working on any other forthcoming television projects related to dance?
No. Not on dance. I'm working on a music show right now.

Radhika Shurajit
“Thrayee School of Bharatanatyam”
Plot # 2, Jayaram Avenue
Shastri Nagar, Chennai 600020, India
Ph: (91 - 44) - 24911544