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Brukumsa: Festival of woman impersonators
- G. Ulaganathan
Photos: Shandilya Srivatsa

October 15, 2017

The International Arts and Cultural Foundation, headed by the noted photographer Shandilya Srivatsa, presented BRUKUMSA, a one-day classical dance festival in the last week of September in Bangalore, focussing on woman impersonators in Andhra Natyam and Kuchipudi, the oldest classical dance forms from Andhra Pradesh. The three main artistes for the evening were Kalakrishna from Hyderabad, Surya Rao from Bangalore and Basavaraja from Bellary.


Surya Rao

Explaining the reasons for men taking over the roles of women in dance, Kalakrishna said in the ancient days temples were favourite venues for dance performances. Later, these dance forms entered the courts of emperors and kings, and later the general public. In 1947, the SITA act prevented women from performing in temples and courts of emperors and kings, and there was considerable apprehension that these art forms would die soon. This was the trigger for men to take over and perform women's roles especially in Andhra Natyam, which is one of the country's ancient art forms.


According to Surya Rao, "During the British rule, there was the anti-nautch movement, and women weren't allowed to dance. So, male dancers had to dress up as women and had to enact in some of the traditional formats of Kuchipudi. This is not in practice these days, so we took it up as a challenge to revive this art form, and have tried to perform the way artistes did in its heyday."

Kalakrishna rendered the Nava Janardhana Parijatham, a solo performance for about 40 minutes and successfully brought out the changing moods of Satyabhama - anxiety, expectation, longing, anger, love, disappointment, arrogance, etc - with subtle nuances. "It usually takes about 2 hours for me to put on my makeup and become a woman on stage, but soon after the show, it takes hardly 10 minutes to become a man again", says Kalakrishna who has been doing this for the last 30 years. At Seva Sadan, he really stole the show and any latecomer would have thought that a pretty young girl was performing on stage. Truly age has not withered him and he continues to inspire many young men and women in his State.

Surya Rao, the disciple of eminent guru Veena Murthy Vijay, has been holding forte in Karnataka and his mastery over the technique came out in full flow. Ganga Gowri Vilasam, which is similar to the traditional Kuchipudi number Bhama Kalapam was an interesting number. It is claimed that the song was composed by Kempe Gowda, the warrior king who is credited with the founding of Bangalore, though according to scholars there is no written evidence to prove that. In this piece also the dancer uses the service of Madhavi and Surya Rao brought out the dramatic element and the rustic conversation style as a solo dancer.

Bellary-based Basavaraja presented a tarangam wherein he brought out the bakthi element and being based in a rural town one could feel that he has successfully used Yakshagana dance techniques including the fast moves around the stage, vigorous gestures, and so on.

G. Ulaganathan is a senior writer and journalist based in Bangalore.