maya ravan @ nova

Last evening I spent watching Shobhana and her troupe of 7 perform the dance drama – Maya Ravan..: a fund Raiser for AID India. This venue was a last minute addition to her schedule and with just 3 weeks of advertising and organising the MD AID chapter did a good job of getting the house full. Some stood the whole 2 hour show as tickets were oversold.

And what a show it was!


Shobhana has always been a good dancer and an award-winning actress in Malyalam. [I specify as her telugu roles weren’t really what she was meant for.] Versatile as she is and the maturity she exhibits on stage is remarkable. Of course she has the added advantage of being born into a family of dance and arts, but then good genes can only take you so far. What I admired in the performance was her creativity and how she broke away from the norm in bringing Bharatnatyam to the common man.

When you think back, arts all over the world have been privy only to the educated, and the rich. The language used, the medium and forms was hard to understand by the common man. This way of breaking down classical steps into more layman’s language by using Bollywood music, the western classical, flamenco, while still holding onto the raaga, the bhava and the taala requires a certain grasp and understanding of not only the art but to consciously force an open mind. To quote my favorite line “think outside the box, the options are limitless”!

Yet, anyone can choreograph and direct dance. I can too, and if you’ve dwelled in it for a while, the confidence drives you to experiment. To make it commendable and make even the staunchest of connossieurs nod their head grudgingly, as well as get the ignorant to tap their feet requires a certain dedication, foresight, skill, sensitivity and command.

Maya Ravan is a good blend of all of the above. Shobhana’s portrayal of Ravana is at best simple. Therein lies the depth. Kids in the auditorium laughed when she smirked and goofed as clumsy Ravan, a few clapped with joy when she portrayed Ravan beaten in the war kid his wife with a wine goblet, the way she’d shrug her shoulders, swagger on and off the stage as the haughty ruler. The lift of the eyebrow, the smile, the lust in the eyes as Ravan tries to grapple with Seeta, the mockery, the taunting, the anger, the quizzical confused looks…

The nuances are plenty. The mannerisms such that though theatrical seem common placed. Like you could be doing that in your living room with a Poker buddy, with your wife to make her laugh, to cajole, to win her over when she pouts, while brusquely showing off your muscles and establishing your place.
The English dialogs – Indian English add a whimsical authenticity to the show. Naseeruddin Shah, Milind Soman, Suhasini, Jackie Shroff, Revanthy lend their voices. Funnily, apart from Naseeruddin’s gravely voice, I could not place anyone else’s! Maybe because they spoke English, andΒ I was expecting to hear Suhasini in Tamil or Telugu, or maybe I was just too taken with Shobhana’s body language that I couldn’t distract myself any other way.

One can’t help flash back to theΒ farce that’s called SethuRam project now, as we watch on celluloid the monkey brigade build the bridge. The imagery as the clip played for us, was strikingly beautiful.

I absolutely loved her AR Rehman’s rendition of Vande Mataram: depicting India in all its glory, as dancers moved across the stage enacting the various facets. The epics, the history, the great people who walked our roads, the modern world, the fashion shows, the pagaentry, the India as the world knows now. The crowd clapped in glee, when all dancers lined up as seated in cubicles, and dramatically enacted us [yes, u and me] behind our laptops furiously clacking away at the keyboard. Vande Mataram could not have ended any better than with a portrayal of our good old cricket, as a dancer rolls on the floor with her hand raised in catching an imaginary catch, Shobhana raised her hand to signal ‘out’ amidst laughter and claps. Defining moment I tell you!

The costumes are new, colors subdued yet defining. Some wondered on how they could change a whole outfit under 2 minutes, all I can say is “it’s an art, and it comes with practice” πŸ™‚
Her troupe is remarkable, and each one deserved a special mention and applaud.

As a dancer myself, it is with excitement thatΒ I watched as the familar steps and body movements could be intermixed and produced with such sringara, such bhava, and such novelty. Refreshing.


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31 replies on “maya ravan @ nova”
  1. says: bApHoMEt

    My uncle had organised a Shobhana programme in NEw York. Was this a follow up to that?

    you seem to be so well versed in dance. i am quite the dancer myself. a lot of improvisation – at every stage in my performance, the next step is a mystery, even to me.

  2. says: Altoid

    Ok, thanks for the elaborate write-up. I’d probably have said the same good things, in 1/4 the number of lines :P.

    Can I just link this up and go back to enjoying the rest of the great weekend? πŸ˜€

  3. says: Maverick

    i absolutely adore shobana. AID tempe had actually planned this, but because of financial constraints this couldn’t happen. I hope i get to see this some other time.

  4. says: BPSK

    I had no idea that Shobhana was still active. I remember watching her in Malayalam movies back in the 80s. And yes, having a crush on, as well.

    Some of the movements that you describe almost sound like Kathakali.

    Also, the latter part of the performance seems to have been a separate show than the Ramayana piece?


  5. says: cydonian

    When you think back, arts all over the world have been privy only to the educated, and the rich. The language used, the medium and forms was hard to understand by the common man.

    That is simply not true. Kuchipudi, for example, was originally a folk-art form that got gentrified, if you will, into classical theater.

    A similar evolution exists for tango as well, in fact; while tango is now considered to be uppity, refined and all that, there was a time when it was danced only in brothels in Buenos Aires or Montevideo.

    While a viable urban middle class has always been necessary to sustain art, to say that dance-forms are, in general, inaccessible to the general populace is, I believe, incorrect.

  6. says: deitaDi

    ooh! ShObhana! ee saari choosuDu veelu kaalE gani, 2003 la NYC la oka broadway theater la thana performance chooshinunTi.. too much! spell binding!

    agree with the comment about her roles in telugu movies.. there was one movie though, in which she had a role of any substance – rudraveeNa (a beautifully composed, sung and choreagraphed song from the movie here –

    actually, inko renDu sinmaalu kuda yaadikostunnai – abhinandana & April 1 viDudala πŸ™‚

  7. says: rads

    deitadi – Right, I forget the good ones. Funnily, all I see is flashback of ghastly images of her prancing with Mohan Babu with feathers tucked into hear hair! *shudder
    IR fan kada, enduku pitch cheyyaru?! πŸ˜›

    Deepa – Ones who danced alongside are obvisously senior students/artists and they were just too good!

    OK – Of crse it’s boring, unless heart throb Saada is grooving to Nokia πŸ˜€

    BPSK – Yea, she’s a looker, and quite active and kicking! πŸ™‚
    Well, Kathakali is based on nuances hidden under all the costumes. It’s probably one Indian dance form am completely lost with, probably also coz the songs are set in malayalam and I understand little of it.
    She performed a couple of smaller items before starting off with Ravan ballet, including a fusion, and ARR. If you haven’t heard Ganesh Kumaresh’s fusion on MIO, please do, it’s wonderful! If fusion ticks your fancy I mean…

    Maverick – yea, the tour’s done with today I think. Hopefully, the dvd will show up soon.

    Altoid – You welcome! πŸ˜€
    You should write too, am sure you picked up something I missed πŸ™‚

    Baph – No idea, was it AID sponsored? Coz this was an exclusive AID tour.
    re dance: Not knowing what’s coming next is deep, that calls for celebration in creativity πŸ˜‰

  8. says: rads

    cydonian – Now you’re twisting things outa context πŸ˜›

    Kuchipudi started off as Bhagavatamelanatakam with men predominantly playing/dancing various roles. Vempati Mastergaru is the one who got women into it, and now there’s hardly any men dancing. Whcih is sad, coz the male form’s version of Kuchipdui is a beauty to watch. A duet is spectacular, maybe that’s perhaps Raja-Radha Reddy’s famous and well liked.
    Anyways, did I digress?

    I suppose when I wrote that line, I meant as in the language, and the other finer arts that really a common man had difficulty understanding. Even for me, though I understand quite a bit of telugu, there are some words in the songs that escape my understanding. Unless I understand what I emote, I hardly do justice. So when I say “educated” I meant, knowing in arts/culturals/languages, the theory behind it, the why’s and the how’s – not just an eye for appreciation.

    For ex: Perhaps 10% of who watched along with me knew raagams, and steps and any small amount of natya shastra. The rest were just there for various other reasons. If they walked out feeling good and “paisa-vasool smiles”, then obviously the artist has done her part in handing/breaking things down for them.

    That’s what I mean.
    If there was a strict bharatnatyam/kuchipudi performance, politeness will force folks to sit there for 2 items, after that they’d move on. I know! 😐 Bring fusion into it, it’s reaching more minds and hearts.

  9. says: TinTin

    I commented on the previous post for this post – generally the post link appears below the post but in your blog it is at the top – hence.

    Anyway, this dance talk is a little heavy for me and you and the commenters appear pretty knowledgable about it. (To be honest I hadnt heard of Shobna or Aparna ever). So I’ll keep my mouth shut as all laymen should do when they are between wise people.

  10. says: rads

    Pilgrim – Nice move πŸ˜›

    Muni – lol, It’s a blend alright! πŸ™‚

    btw, I just realized I haven’t written back! Pls check mail in a few.

    Titin – hehe, it’s just an interest, nothing huger πŸ™‚

    Krupa – Just checked her out. Now, she’s different and seems to do very well. Thanks for letting me know πŸ™‚

  11. says: munimma

    I am not averse to fusions. It is the execution that I am particular about πŸ™‚ I saw her doing the opening for an award show on you tube. And that is why I said the work should equate fame.

  12. says: Balaji

    She recently danced (with Vinith) to ‘raa raa…’ from chandramukhi at a singapore awards show. since i remember her awesome dance for the original malayalam song, i was looking fwd to it. but it was pretty disappointing. i guess she practised a lot more for this πŸ™‚

    btw, could you send me an email? bbalaji [@] sbcglobal [.] net.

  13. says: rads

    Schmetterling – Thank you! πŸ˜€

    balaji, Muni – Filmfare awards are fizool-sorts. I mean, seriously who cares if you miss a beat or do a ‘di-thai’ for a ‘di-di-thai’ – just look pretty and flail your arms around.
    Ultimately, the audience matters, to cut a long story short.
    This review was more on the whole package: her troupe as dancers, performers and her creation of it, specifically.

    There are some really good authentic dancers out there. No doubt.

  14. Missed it when she was here 2 months back. Wife’s aunt/uncle were here and she deemed it more importnant to take them around and show them the city πŸ˜‰

  15. says: rads

    DS – When wife’s relatives are in town, you should kiss the rest of your activities goodbye. Shobhana can always wait πŸ˜‰

    Muni – lol πŸ˜€

  16. says: cydonian

    Rads: I suppose when I wrote that line, I meant as in the language, and the other finer arts that really a common man had difficulty understanding.
    The point I’m making is, the so-called common man _now_ has challenges in appreciating in (what the 17th century philosopher, David Hume, would call as) ‘legitimate art’.

    _Traditionally_, kuchipudi was very very accessible to non-literate masses indeed; note that the Qutb Shahi ruler who gave the dance-form its name, Qutb Shah II, was more fluent in Indo-Persian than arcane Telugu.

    Even for me, though I understand quite a bit of telugu, there are some words in the songs that escape my understanding.

    Yes, hence my term ‘gentrification’. πŸ™‚ My point is that the sahityam (ie ‘literature’, and hence ‘lyrics’, for all ye unwashed, non-Telugu-speaking masses) is only _now_ removed from the junta. Different lalita kaLa, but Tirupati Venkata kavulu, for example, were actually mass-entertainers in their times, just as Gurajada Appa Rao was a bestselling author.

  17. says: Upsi

    Rads —
    I really wanted to go watch her when the show came to Dallas. But with a lil one, I wasn’t sure if he will co-operate. And so didnt.
    But oh…how I wish! how I wish!

    wonder if they would release a CD.

  18. Sobhana is my favorite actress. She is the essence of beauty and elegance. I used have a life-size poster of hers in my room πŸ™‚

    I would’ve been so jealous that you got to saw her but I actually met her when she came to bay area. She gave a small performance. I even have a picture with her! I look like a goofy idiot in the pic but hey, it’s a pic with Sobhana!

  19. says: rads

    Pilgrim – Should be a good one though it’s just the weekend before the holidays start and you know how crazy it gets then..

    tdna – elegance? As a telugu actress? hmm..
    You should let us judge how goofy you are and post that pic.
    btw, awesome speed-reading, you being true to your dummy-manual for commenting, me thinks.

    Upsi -Surprisingly, there were kids galore. Also, she seemed quite accomodative of the wails.
    They should sell it once she’s performed it enough times around πŸ™‚

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