It is going to be a 75-year-old Krishna and a 70-year-old Radha, quipped legendary dancer VP Dhananjayan as he stood poised on the stage to enact Radha Madhavam along with his wife Shantha. Soon, however, it became clear that neither time nor age had dimmed the famed husband-wife duo’s artistic prowess and the riveting performance was greeted by a standing ovation by the audience.
It was a guru’s remarkable gesture to his shishya, who had just paid a literary tribute to him by chronicling for posterity his brilliant and ever-lasting contribution to one of the oldest art forms in the world.
For, it will be no exaggeration to state that ever since Kalakshetra’s legendary founder Rukmini Devi Arundale helped transform bharatanatyam from the dance of the devadasis to a secular art form, the classical dance had been the preserve of women, until men like Dhananjayan descended on the scene. In the late sixties, when he made the art his career, he demonstrated that male dancers could perform bharatanatyam without dressing up as women to appear on stage.
In her 284-page book, “Master of Arts – A Life in Dance,” author and dancer Tulsi Badrinath, who learnt dance from him for nearly 40 years, narrates a remarkable story of the difficulties faced by a male dancer in establishing himself in what was thought to be an unrespectable profession. The book also throws light on Dhananjayan’s years in Kalakshetra and his departure from it, the deep love that blossomed between him and his wife and the dance partnership they forged.
Launching the book at a function on Tuesday, hosted by the Duchess Club, former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi recalled how a member of the audience prostrated himself before Dhananjayan while the dancer was enacting the role of Saint Thyagaraja. “Still in character, he also accepted it,” he said.
Paying glowing tributes to other male dancers like M V Narasimhachari and A Janardhanan, the former diplomat, who is president of Kalakshetra, pointed out that the citadel of dance loomed large in the book, but without being blindly worshipful and in an intelligently critical sense. “The book is frank, fair and above all highly readable,” he said.
In an interaction with Gandhi, the author said to a query that while there was patronage for the art form, there was still need for a better system.
“There are private institutions and sabhas promoting bharatanatyam, but they have their drawbacks too.” “Master of Arts,” a hardback edition brought out by hachette India and priced at Rs 599, is Tulsi Badrinath’s third book and the first work of non-fiction.