Sunday, November 28, 2010


You’re not my type.
I don’t think I want this now.
You’re too good for me.
I think we want different things in life.

Why do you have your hair long?
Do you want to be a woman?
Why don’t you just lose some weight?
How can he dress like that?

Nobody will like you if you look like this!
Get those teeth fixed!
You’re too smart!
I like MEN!

You really think you’re the cat’s whiskers, no?
I’m OK with being friends; just the love part’s kinda scary, cool?
Why can’t you love me as a straight man?
Why can’t you change?

The problem is men are intimidated by you.
That’s how gay men are.
Stop being self piteous.
I am not gay.



Pics © Saina Jayapal, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Now the original of this article appeared today, the 14th of November, 2010 in Bangalore Mirror, but here’s the original unedited version :P

You’ve seen him in several films, you’ve seen him in plays and I can bet you’ve seen him in a few ads too... But Joy Sengupta, is still quite the man of surprises when it comes to first meetings.
What had we heard about him, before we had our first conversation?
Well, firstly that, ‘he was cute enough to eat,’ secondly that, ‘he was a pleasure to watch on stage,’ and thirdly that, ‘he had a smile and a voice that could kill’.
Our verdict? Well, completely right on all three counts!
Joy Sengupta is a pleasure to meet, to say the least and as we caught up with him over the week, while his play ‘Dinner with Friends’ premiered in town, we found, that there was so much more to this multifaceted actor.

L Romal M Singh: You’re a fabulous actor, we needn’t tell you that... But where did the love for acting start?

Joy Sengupta: Thank you, first of all, and to answer that question, well... Firstly you’ll have to believe that I was an introvert! I really was! (smiles) In school, which was both in Nepal and Delhi, I was a really shy and timid boy. As I grew up, my love for acting however, got me into a few plays and I realised I was more comfortable playing someone else. You could call it some sort of escapism if you’d like, but I was always encouraged by my teachers and directors, who always reminded me that I had a knack for stage. That’s where it all began.

LRMS: So was it all about the acting and praises?

JS: Not really! When I was in the 6th Standard, I was in Nepal, thanks to my dad’s career as a Government employee. The new experience however gave me new opportunities and soon I directed my first play! I know that sounds ridiculous, but here’s what happened. The school had a rule that only the students from the 11th and 12th could take part and direct these plays. But I was convinced that I could do it too. So I directed a simple short play with a few friends and then showed it to the teachers in-charge. They were impressed and the rest is well... my own wonderful history.

JS: Of course not. In college, which was in Delhi, I was a part of a group that revived the dying college drama society. We had a really enthusiastic cultural head too, and she even organised a training workshop with a NSD product — Surendra Sharma. If it weren’t for him, we’d never have taken theatre seriously. He made us realise that theatre could be a way of life.

LRMS: So was college where you made your first entry into professional theatre?

JS: Not really. College was over in a few years and then I was caught up with deciding what my future would hold. I gave a thought to social service and to advertising and even mass communication. I even did a few of these courses to buy time. By then however, the friends from the drama society in college and me had started a proper theatre group called Act 1. It still exists today and that is so encouraging. I soon found my peace however, in a group called Jananatyamanch that specialised in cultural activism. I also began teaching Theatre-in-Education for a school called Blue Bell and that was an experience in itself. But I was still waiting for my true calling and that came when NSD icon Ebrahim Alkazi returned to India and founded the Living Theatre Academy. I joined without hesitating and I’m extremely glad I did. I received my first offer to work in a play, a few years later, when in 1995 as a 24 year old; I was cast in Lilette Dubey’s production of Mahesh Dattani’s ‘Dance like a Man’.

LRMS: So there’s been no turning back since, we assume?

JS: Not really, I did a few more plays and then even tried my hand at anchoring TV shows, which wasn’t something I enjoyed too much, but paid my bills. My real break however came when I moved to Mumbai in 1997 thanks to a TV show I was hosting then, and was offered a role in a play called ‘If Wishes were Horses’ with Kitu Gidwani. I was soon offered my first film role in Govind Nihalani’s ‘Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa’ and then there was no looking back.

LRMS: So was it smooth sailing thereafter?

JS: It would be wrong to say, I didn’t get offers coming my way. I wasn’t struggling for sure and by 2001 I gave up on TV altogether. I still did a few ads and a few more films and plays and strangely enough, the Bengali film industry noticed me. I then did some really interesting Bengali films including Chaturanga that released in 2008 and is still a favourite at International film festivals.

LRMS: We’re not surprised quite frankly, but moving on to more controversial topics, per se, you’re one of India’s first actors to have played an openly gay role in 2007’s ‘68 pages’, how was the experience and weren’t you afraid of being stereotyped?

JS: This wasn’t the first gay role I’d played. I had already worked in Lilette Dubey’s production of Mahesh Dattani’s ‘On a Muggy Night in Mumbai’, where I played a man questioning his sexual identity. I won’t call the role in this film challenging, per se, just because it was of a different sexuality, what however made me enjoy and take the role on as a challenge, was the non-stereotypical portrayal of a gay man and his partner. I had to look around me and see how real gay men behaved. About stereotyping however, the only stereotype I’m worried about right now is of films portraying me as the ‘intellectual city dweller’.

LRMS: So you don’t like being portrayed as ‘the intellectual city dweller’?

JS: No! Which actor would? Theatre gives me more options to play around when it comes to characterization; the same can’t be said of cinema. I would really like to play a raw, earthy character in some film soon. But that doesn’t seem to be on the cards for me right now.

LRMS: Now that we’ve almost come full circle, what is that one role that you’ve always wanted to play?

JS: Hamlet! Though I guess I’m too old for that role right now.

LRMS: Finally, like always, what projects can we look forward to you in?

JS: Well, ‘Anjaana Anjaani’ has me as a friend of Ranbir Kapoor, and is in theatres right now, but otherwise, there’s ‘A Prayer for Rain’ on the Bhopal Tragedy that should be out in theatres soon. ‘Dinner with Friends’ is still touring the country, and so might a few others that I’m a part off, so you might just see me again in Bangalore, pretty soon!

With that we exchange a few more pleasantries and we take our leave.

Joy Sengupta will remain to be one of the most interesting actors India has ever produced and we hope and pray that we’ll see him in more interesting and diverse roles in the future too. And about the cute part... Oh! Yes! He definitely is one helluva looker!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Bharatanatyam, who's is it?

An article I wrote for the Bangalore Mirror, dated Saturday, 23rd October on the Arangetram of Tomoko Matsuda, a Japanese national, received an extremely vague response... I couldn't help but reply to it, and here is what the whole conversation came to be. I am still waiting for S N Balasubrahmanyam's reply :)

(Picture not of Tomoko Matsuda — Right)


Bridging the barrier

Tomoko Matsuda, a native of Osaka in Japan, took to Bharatanatyam after she fell under the spell of the mudras of this ancient dance

L Romal M Singh

Bharatanatyam maybe the classical dance form native to the state of Tamil Nadu, and it might also be one of the oldest classical dance forms on earth, but since time immemorial, the dance form has spoken out to millions of people around the world, making it their preferred medium of dance as communication.

One such recent convert is Japanese national Tomoko Matsuda, a native of Osaka in Japan. A student of Bhavani Ramnath, an exponent in the Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam, Tomoko first witnessed a Bharatanatyam performance when she came to Bangalore, almost four years ago. Growing up in Osaka, she had never encountered Indian classical dance before and was immediately drawn in by the complexity, beauty and dexterity of the art.

“I work with deaf children and practice a lot of sign language, which helps me become a better translator for them. The mudra aspect of Bharatanatyam was what caught my attention first,” says Tomoko.

Tomoko, who dabbled in the arts even before her introduction to Bharatanatyam, has a keen sense for arts that are out of the ordinary. A few years ago, after her marriage to Yoji Matsuda, she shifted to the Shizuoka prefecture in Japan, where she began learning the folk arts of the Okinawa style.

When she came to India in 2006, a Japanese friend of hers was learning the classical dance form of Kathak, which intrigued her, but Tomoko, who soon watched a Bharatanatyam performance, immediately knew this was what she wanted to learn.

“The hardest part in terms of teaching was the language barrier,” says Bhavani Ramnath. “She wasn’t too fluent in English and had never been exposed to Indian art traditions. We had to understand each other, for this to work out. We almost created our own language together — a mix of short English phrases and a lot of signs. But she is a diligent and fast learner, which is why she was able to learn so much, so fast,” adds Bhavani Ramnath.

Tomoko says, “Krishna Nee Beganey Baaro, is a piece that makes me happy, and all my nervousness seems to diffuse when I think of performing that piece.”

Tomoko Matsuda will perform at ‘Yavanika’ on Nrupatunga Road at 6:15 pm on October 23.



Bharatanatyam not native to TN

S N Balasubrahmanyam

The article Bridging the barrier (Oct 23, BM), claims Bharatanatyam is native to the state of Tamil Nadu. This claim is absolutely incorrect. Tamil Nadu preserved the pristine form of the ‘naatyam’ as described in Bharata’s Naatya Shastra. Look at any of the sculptural representations of naatya postures in temples anywhere in India and you will be convinced that the form was spread all over India. The other extant forms are regional variations created by local cultural changes e.g. the court form of Kathak from the Mughal era, the folk element in Kuchipudi, etc. Unremarkably, the Sanskrit technical terms (for the mudras, for the taalas, etc.), introduced by Bharata, are in use to this day in all dance forms recognised as “classical” today.



While you are right in claiming that the sculptures in temples all across the country possess a similar form of dance being depicted, you are wrong to assume it to all be Bharatanatyam.

The Bharatanatyam that we speak of today is only a more glorified version of Cathir (Sadir), the ancient temple dance form that was exclusively practiced in Dravidian (South Indian style) temples. Each area in India, since the ancient times, evolved their own forms of temple arts and Sadir is what was practiced and danced in Tamil temples, and may have even been practiced in areas that had more Tamil inclinations across the south — Chittoor, in AP, for example.

There is proof that these arts existed, thanks to the very sculptures you refer to and the fact that they have been recorded in epics like the Silapadikkaram and texts like the Tolkappiyam.

The dance was also known as Dasiaattam, at one point of time, as it was practiced by Devadasis in temples all across the south. More recent references to the dance were in the court chronicles of Thanjavoor, where even up until the Marathi King Saraboji’s time (1798–1824), the dance was still practiced, however in a new avatar, as Devadasis who performed for the king, came to be known as Rajanartakis.

The town of Thanjavoor has always held a high regard to dancers, because of the famous quartet of Chinnayya, Ponniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu, who made a rich contribution to music and dance forms and also completed the process of re-editing the Sadir performance’s present shape with its various forms like the Alaarippu, Jathi-Svaram, Varanam, Sadanam, Padam and Tillana.

The descendants of these four brothers formed the original stock of Nattuvanars or dance teachers of Sadir in Thanjavoor. Their descendants are the schools of Thanjavoor, Vazhuvoor and Pandanallur, that separated over time, with minute differences in style and choreography.

Now the Natya Shastra and its elements of dance have been used since time immemorial and you are right in assuming that ‘maybe’ this Natyam existed all across the country at one point of time. There are possibilities that it did, and that the fall of the Hindu kingdoms in the South marked the eventual decline of Natyam, as the Muslim invasion in the North completely could have wiped out Natyam in the north — but these are mere assumptions, with no proof in them, whatsoever.

Bharatanatyam evolved into its present form thanks to the efforts of E Krishna Iyer and dancers like Rukumini Devi Arundale.

Here is some information about the whole process of elevating Sadir into Bharatanatyam:

“Pioneers like Madam HP Blavatsky and Colonel HS Olcott, the founders of the Theosophical movement, had undertaken an extensive tour of South India and propagated the revival of devadasi institutions and the associated art of Sadir. They gained support from some sections of the native elite by their public denouncement of western Christian morality and materialism. In 1882, the Theosophical Society of India had set up its headquarters in Adyar, Chennai with the set goal of working towards the restoration of India's ancient glory in art, science, and philosophy.

The support later given to a revival of Sadir as Bharatanatyam by the Theosophical Society was largely due to the efforts of Rukumini Devi Arundale, an eminent theosophist, and E. Krishna Iyer.

The Theosophical Society Adyar provided the necessary funds and organization to back Arundale as the champion for India’s renaissance in the arts, especially Bharatanatyam. The revivalists tried to present the idealistic view of the institution of Devadasi. According to their view, it was the model of the ancient temple dancer as pure, sacred, and chaste women, as they were originally.

They stressed that the dance of Devadasi was a form of ‘natya yoga’ to enhance an individual's spiritual plane. The revivalists wanted to preserve the traditional form of Sadir dance by purifying it. As a consequence of purification, some modifications were introduced into the content of the dance, which was strongly criticized by dancer Balasaraswati and other prominent representatives of the traditional devadasi culture. The revivalists mostly belonged to Brahmin dominated Theosophical circles. Many Brahmin girls started to learn the dance from Devadasis.

In contrast to the abolitionist portrayal of Devadasis as prostitutes, the revivalists sketched them as nuns in order to defend and legitimize the institution. Still others claim that a devadasi was neither a prostitute nor a nun: ‘She was a professional artist, who did not suppress or deny her feminine skills, an obliquely if not purposely aligned with the tenets of Japanese Geisha culture. Devadasi women kept classical dance forms, like Bharatanatyam and Odissi, alive for centuries.’ ”

Now coming back you were wrong in assuming the temple sculptures across the country were the same. The sculptures in the Krishna-Godavari belt of present day Andhra Pradesh always depicted Kuchipudi, named after a town in the area that centres the dance, to this very date. The dance was always practiced by men, owing the the strong sense of Vaishnavism, that was the dominant religion in that area, where it was considered unchaste for a woman to dance. The dance funnily enough, was taught and propagated by Brahmins to be precise. So the roots are very different, even though Sadir and Kuchipudi might seem similar when looked at.

The sculptures seen in Orissa are of Odissi. Odissi was lost in between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and had to be re-learnt through sculptures. Thankfully the extensive sculptures across the state allowed for a full re-learning of the dance. Odissi and Bharatanatyam share nothing in common other than their roots in the Natya Shastra.

So, when there is proof that other parts of the country have their own forms of dance, all yes, based on the Natya Shastra, but extremely different otherwise, why is it wrong or incorrect to place Bharatanatyam in Tamilnadu, when what we dance today as the form, was after all a more chaste and ‘purified’ version of Sadir and Dasiaattam, almost completely exclusive to the state?

And if your worries come from the fact that there exists a Mysore School of Bharatanatyam, then even that can be explained to have come out of TN, as you will find chronicled here, .

Hoping this detailed explanation will help you understand why the dance form of Bharatanatyam has and will always be considered a dance form with its roots in TN, for if we all follow your theory of where the roots of dances are to be placed, then the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni, that is based on the Gandharva Veda [sometimes called Natya Veda] (an appendix to the Sama Veda), and was probably written somewhere in the Punjab area, between 200 BC and 200 AD, would signify that Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kuchipudi were dances from Punjab (?).

Similarly Kutiyattam, the purest of the Natya Shastra traditions, to have lived on, untouched, and is the only surviving specimen of the ancient Sanskrit theatre, should also be placed there, even though its form and style are so vividly different from what one would assume the Natya Shastra to be?

The Natya Shastra was a guide, and artists took from it what they could, while they perfected their own individual arts. Present day Bharatanatyam is what ancient Tamils took from the Natya Shastra. They called it Sadir, but the world calls it Bharatanatyam, much thanks to people like Rukumini Devi Arundale, who again rejoiced in how it could mean Bharata Natyam as in the dance of Bharata Muni and also mean BhaRaTaNatyam meaning, the dance that is characterised by Bhaava (Expressions), Raaga (Music) and Taala (Rhythm).

Pic: Charles Ma, 'Shikharam' © Madhu Shwetha, 2009

Monday, November 01, 2010

rainbow butterfly.

A butterfly flew in through my window and placed itself, wings still fluttering, on my multi-coloured towel crushed into a mass of unshapeliness. The towel was always a sad rainbow, but here was its leprechaun. Happiness must be around the corner.

My towel has always felt colourless, even though it had all the colours of the rainbow, and on several occasions, it has given me much joy, by just its presence. But it was an unhappy towel. A very unhappy towel that listened to drawling music that came from the north of my country.

The butterfly flapped its wings, almost blinding me with the way the morning light reflected off its glazen wings. Pink. Purple. Peach. Pumpkin. Pea. Pee. Platinum. Poppy. —you name it; it had a million colours that each spoke a million words in a million tongues and confused me intriguingly.

In that cacophony however, there was beauty — a beauty that could only be felt — not seen or heard or touched, but felt. Who said colours have no sound? They must be ‘tone-deaf’!

The butterfly asked me if I knew my maker. I smiled, asleep, dreaming, smiling. Its voice was calming, broken into staccato by the frenzied fluttering. But the pleasing confusion only increased my restlessness.

I looked back into its gleaming eyes, refracting the dizzyingly bright morning light in a million rays that all caught my attention in a millisecond. I couldn’t grasp the beauty of it then. I was in REM.

My towel cringed, trying to shrug off all this uninvited happiness. It curled around, wrung itself, stretched and did everything that a magical towel could do. The butterfly just played hop-scotch. Jump. Flutter. Land. Jump. Flutter. Land.

I smiled. A tear rolled down from my third eye. I was still asleep.

The butterfly then uncurled its honey-sipper and I heard a loud flower-like voice that reminded me of melting ice and sweet lemonade. It sang in a language that sounded like small petite notes put together in a wonderful melody. I understood every word it said. I don’t remember a word.

I was now a big huge balloon. Flying through the sky, clouds tickling my bare feet. I wasn’t naked, I was unclothed. My unhappy towel was spread across my chest, the pretty diva butterfly, now even more glorious and glazen, still perched on my towel.

Suddenly, the butterfly took off. My eyes caught its deep all-knowing endless eyes as it flew away and I knew what it meant.

I took my towel off and threw it away.

My towel looked at me from its million eyes locked away in those tight weaves. I saw tears wring out from every strand, and I cried. This time, the tears rolled down my cheeks, down over my lips, down my throat and onto my chest.

My tears trailed down my body, unwilling to leave and then when they could hold on no longer, fell to the earth below me.

My towel darted forth, trying to catch the falling tear. The butterfly fluttered around it. Smiling.

My unhappy towel was too late.

The tears passed through a cloud and the cloud rumbled. It swallowed the tears. It turned black and angry pink. Grey and loud and terrifying!

It burst.

Cacophony. Lightning. Chaos. Madness. Order. Peace.

I knew what I had to do. I lunged for my unwilling towel and held it close, as close to my heart as I probably can. I slowly felt us both falling down.

The fall was sharp and yet soft. The sense of losing it all and yet being safe was exhilarating.

The butterfly floated down with us, whispering sweet nothings all the while, into my ears. I dreamed of conch shells, of whispers of lovers and of the sounds of love, when shared without lust.

And then I heard waves crashing.

I woke up and I looked around. There was my towel. Happy, smiling, and happily black and white. I looked at myself and I felt colour. I was filled with colour.

Pink. Purple. Peach. Pumpkin. Pea. Pee. Platinum. Poppy. —you name it; it had a million colours that each spoke a million words in a million tongues and confused me intriguingly. I was happy.

I looked at the strong sunshine pouring through the window and I saw it — my butterfly, far away, glorious, omnipresent, omnipotent, and all powerful.

It smiled at me and I smiled back and I knew I would never be alone.