Celebrated Bharatanatyam exponents, Vannadil Pudiyaveettil Dhananjayan and Shanta Dhananjayan, known as the Dhananjayans, were in the capital to perform at Kamani Auditorium on August 11. The duo, now famously known as the ‘Vodafone couple’, was part of the Natya Tarangini that celebrated the 22nd edition of Parampara Series: The National Festival of Music and Dance organised by legends Dr Raja and Radha Reddy.
Do you remember your first performance together? How was it?
Dhananjayan: That was way back in 1957. We performed as Rama and Seetha in Rukminidevi’s Seetha Swayamvaram staged in Coimbatore. We had to share a small seat during the wedding sequence and Shanta sulked because she had to sit close to me.
She called me a ‘Lousy Rama’ and I did not talk to her for months.
You have performed with legends. What is that one moment that has stayed with you?
Dhananjayan: Every such moment stays with you forever. Being with legends is a learning process. My first performance with Rukmini Devi always plays through my mind. Even in her 50s, she appeared as if she was just an adolescent. The legendary Kathakali guru, Asaan Chanduppanikkar, is another fond memory. Performing with Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair and Durgalal was an experience in itself.
Shanta: I will always remember this one instance when I was playing the lead role in Jayadeva’s Geeta Govindam. My teacher Sarada Hoffman played one of the supporting dancers, thus helping me to excel. Besides, performing alongside greats such as Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, Mallika Sarabhai, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Dr Paul Heins, Gloria Mandelik, and more has been a mesmerising experience.
You have achieved a lot together. Did the journey ever seem long and hard?
Dhananjayan: Well, it never felt long. It was hard, but pleasant.
Shanta: We always shared the hardships together.
What is the biggest roadblock to the making of an artist in India?
Dhananjayan: Artists need funding and patronage without favouritism and nepotism. As far as the government is concerned, art is the least of their priorities, and that is the biggest hurdle.
How was the experience of doing an ad film with Vodafone? Any more such adventures on the anvil?
Shanta: Oh, it was a wonderful experience. We got a chance to learn a different genre. It also added a fillip to our energy levels since we were shooting for up to 18 hours a day. We did almost 10 episodes. Recently, we did another shoot for an oil company. I have also finished shooting for a feature film with legendary Malayalam actor Nedumudi Venu.
Dhananjayan: I am half-way through shooting for a thriller with actor Vikram. It’s fun doing such things once in a while.
You have been together for over 50 years, what’s the secret?
Dhananjayan: Perfect understanding, a give-and-take attitude, recognising each other’s advantages and disadvantages, and upholding gender equality and dignity are the key.
How difficult is it being in the same profession?
Shanta: As far as we are concerned, there’s no difficulty at all. We complement each other. Once you understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s a win-win situation. That is how it works.
You are performers and teachers. If you had to choose one?
Dhananjayan: A performer, for sure.
Shanta: Teaching is my passion.
What do you dislike about each other?
Dhananjayan: Shanta’s diplomacy
Shanta: His outspokenness
One adventure you would like to go on.
Shanta: Parasailing or paragliding
One place you like in Delhi.
Dhananjayan: Red Fort
Shanta: Rashtrapati Bhawan