It is not rare that, sometimes the dancer become more popular than the dance form. Manju Warrier, the dancer turned actor (or vice-versa) is a dancer of that genre and her last stage here at Karikkakom Sri Chamundi Temple, Trivandrum was yet another proof of this.
The crowd howled, whistled and clapped when she first appeared on the stage indicating that they had come to see their favourite actress. Whether she was there to perform Kuchipudi or cinematic dance hardly bothered them. Facing such a crowd, nearing a thousand, Manju Warrier started her Kuchipudi performance with a Devi Bhajan composed by Sri Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma.
The Bhajan, "Jay Jay Devi..." praising the Goddess focusing on Devi Saraswathi didn't pose any challenge to the dancer. Manju Warrier performed it with ease laced with a few improvisations.
Then followed traditional Tarangam, "Govardhana Giridhara...", composition of Narayana Teertha, choreographed by Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam and set in Ragamalika. Even though Manju used the brass plate in the latter part, she didn't try anything complex and resorted to forward-backward movements.
Agastyar's "Sri Chakraraja...", another krithi in praise of Goddess Devi, set in Ragamalika and Aadi tala was next. There is no doubt that Manju's smile is beautiful, but smiling becoming the sthayi may not be something which is always appreciable. Many times, even before registering the sancharis clearly, she goes back to her smiling face!
"Durge Durge..." appears to be Manju Warrier's favourite as she has been observed to perform this item in every stage. The krithi set in raga Revati is something which every Kuchipudi dancer loves to perform, but the difference came when she knitted the story of Abhirami Pattar and Raja Serfoji during the recital of the "Allum Pakalum Un Namam Padi...".
She also brought in a regional flavor as did a few steps reminiscing of Kalam Thullal in 'Kalamezhuthu'. Along with these, fluently floating through different bhavas reflecting the various incarnations of Goddess Durga, Manju made the item look so unique.
The nattuvanar, Geetha Padmakumar was impressive as her jathis sounded clear and vibrant. She also assisted the vocalist at times providing a bit of depth to the recital. Bijeesh Krishna needs to raise his standards in providing the vocal support, considering the quality we expect from performances like these.
The dancer's movements were well supported by Charudutt Kalamandalam in Mridangam. The other accompaniments were Murali Narayanan's Flute, Suresh Nambuthiri's Violin and Murali Krishna's Veena.
Performing in temples in Kerala is altogether a different experience for a dancer, compared to performances before knowledgeable rasikas. Doing a serious classical piece may not get acceptance whereas gimmicks may work out very well. Manju deserves credit for not trying anything silly and yet winning the audience.Let's hope that, at least a few of those who howled and whistled in the beginning will return to watch her performance and just not to ogle at the actor.
Aside: It was ridiculous to see the camera mounted on a crane moving close to the dancer. Videotaping a classical dance is not about zooming in and going too close. Please do not make the dancer uncomfortable by moving a video camera so close to the performer.
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