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Ramaa Bharadvaj in 'Tarkka Paatu': Reinvigorating folk traditions
- Divya Ravi
Photos: Navin Ravindran

October 6, 2019

What happens when an artiste's creative element stems from the marriage of a firm grounding in Indian classical arts and decades of global experience? An aesthetic, elevating, yet relatable experience for all those partaking in the creation! 'Tarkka Paatu' was one such creation of dancer, choreographer and storyteller Ramaa Bharadvaj. Her deep-rooted admiration and earnest love towards classical and folk arts, alongside 32 years of living and working in the USA have brought her to be a movement designer, educator, arts advisor and arts advocate. She was all this and more when she presented Tarkka Paatu for the first time in Chennai (an arangetram of sorts, as she described it) on September 5, 2019, at Anita Ratnam's Arangham Studio Series.

For the uninitiated, Tarkka Paatu promised to be a laughter riot. For this writer, it piqued the curiosity. Having already watched a 13-minute video of Ramaa's 'Tarkka Paatu' (that she had posted on-line), and repeatedly laughing over it, I was intrigued to see how she would build it into a full evening's feature, and how a classically tuned audience would receive a predominantly folk-based feature. So, I decided to travel to Chennai from Bengaluru to catch Tarkka Pattu's Chennai premiere.

It turned out to be a trip worth the effort, for Ramaa did it (again)! The audience was in splits during and after the 70-minute presentation that should be experienced to be believed. Designed by combining winning ingredients -Tamil folk tales, folk songs, a hint of dance, a lot of theatre and liberal dollops of humour - Tarkka Paatu was akin to the most delectable native dish from an indigenous food fare! Albeit Tamil intensive, she took extreme care to ensure that the presentation reached out even to those who had no inkling about the language.

Ramaa's presentation was divided into three segments, aptly titled 'Facts', 'Fun' and 'Frolic'. The 'Facts' segment stemmed from weeks of research and diligent scripting which ensured that the rendition was not just another lecture demonstration, but an enjoyable and entertaining performance. Through musical examples, Ramaa shed light on the literary significance and impact of Tamil folklore, highlighting the underlying wisdom that formed its foundation.This became evident in the very first folk prayer on Vinayaka with which she began the presentation. This sing-along folk couplet, in which the audience too joined in, comprised of only four simple words but Ramaa articulated the deep meaning and profound symbolism of each of those words.

Elaborating on the adaptation of folk songs in classic literature like the Tamil epic 'Silappadigaram' and Tamil Bhakti poetry, she also shared exciting trivia like how the lullaby got its name 'Taalattu' in Tamil. It was also interesting to learn about the intent behind the various types of folk songs - expressing the imagination, inculcating life skills, wit and humour to get through arduous days, encouraging children to ask questions, etc. All of these were illustrated through anecdotes accompanied by perky folk songs with animated gestures. Here, Ramaa endearingly introduced the concept of Tarkka Paatu (which roughly translates to 'song of arguments') through a theme not uncommon to most classical dancers, a tiff between Goddesses Parvati and Lakshmi about whose husband is the better one. This writer has seen multiple versions of this theme penned by contemporary poets, but knowing the roots reinforced the profoundness of folk traditions.

The 'Fun' segment consisted of the actual Tarkka Paatu, a dramatic rendition of a witty Tamil folk song that portrays a squabble between a husband and wife. Adapted from a folk song that was originally sung in the late 1980s by Anitha Kuppusamy and Pushpavanam Kuppusamy, this Tarkka Paatu was completely rewritten and theatrically interpreted by Ramaa, with her portraying both characters - the husband and the wife. Quick change of characters, modulation of voice and body language and usage of multiple appropriate props kept the audience engaged. Yes, this segment might be more relatable to those who understand the nuances of the language, yet it did not deter the non-Tamilians from laughing away.

In the promotions for the event, Ramaa promised that the audience would not be mere spectators, rather, they would become spect'act'ors. That's exactly what the final 'Frolic' segment did. Ramaa surprised the audience with a Tarkka Pattu in English, from the southern part of the United States. The audience members became characters and exuberantly participated in this song enactment. It was interesting to learn that it was this American folk song that inspired her to adapt the Tamil song for her presentation. This reflected the integration of Ramaa's Tamil heritage and her American experience.

Summing up, Tarkka Paatu brought back to life a tradition that the cosmopolitan, metropolitan audience hardly knows about. Ramaa Bharadvaj's One-Woman Act needs all the applause and reach, for it is a uniquely creative work that the world needs to see, hear and experience.

Kudos to Anita Ratnam for hosting this beautiful, enriching and enjoyable evening and treating the audience to a high tea with most exquisite dishes (special mention must be made of 'Morkali', in sync with the folk theme).

Divya Ravi, labelled as a 'thinking dancer', is a promising Bharatanatyam soloist with various performances at coveted national and international festivals to her credit.

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