One of the prime disciples of dance legend T Balasaraswati, Chennai-based dancer Nandini Ramani is an illustrious torchbearer of the former’s tradition. Back in Chennai after a whirlwind tour of the US and later Delhi on her dance expeditions, Nandini took some time off to chat with City Express about her parallel role — keeping Sanskrit theatre alive the way her father, Sanskrit scholar V Raghavan, envisaged it through his organisation Samskrita Ranga, which is in its 58th year.
Groomed by her father, who encouraged her to pursue dance, and Sanskrit through his expansive works in the field, Nandini was prepared for a literature and dance-filled journey from a young age. Set to present Kalidasa’s Shakuntalam for the association’s anniversary in November, Nandini is filled with nostalgia as she talks about the journey that she embarked on when she was eight. “It was a journey that I started parallely with dance. Accompanying my father on his tours to New Delhi, and the Ujjain Kalidas Festival, where he staged his plays, and received appreciation from then President S Radhakrishnan, I witnessed Sanskrit theatre in its full glory during the late 50s and 60s,” she recalls.
Being a founding member of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and an authority in Sanskrit, Raghavan dedicated his efforts to increase the awareness of Sanskrit among people and involved youngsters, apart from reaching literary heights through his plays like Anarkali, which won two Sahitya Akademi Awards from the MP and UP governments. Samskrita Ranga’s association with Natya Sangh also explored the several possibilities within Sanskrit drama in the form of workshops. However, after his passing in 1979, Nandini, says, they were in dark about the future. “After a year’s break, we revived it by staging excerpts from his plays and other productions, gathering young people. We were trained by him in all aspects of theatre production and we began staging some of his renowned works and changed the subjects of the plays — as every decade there is a shift in the kind of audience for Sanskrit works,” she explains. Samskrita Ranga found the audience among the Mylapore crowd with his continued efforts.
Today, Nandini says that there might not be same kind of interest in Sanskrit theatre, but people are keen on engaging with the medium and language. “We began introducing a scene-to-scene synopsis to ensure the audience follows the sequence, as conversational Sanskrit is still difficult for many to follow. For those artistes adept at dance, some gestures from the natya shashtra have become an integral part of our productions,” she says.
Making its presence felt as the oldest association propagating Sanskrit theatre, Samskrita Ranga has had its presence felt in the world of Sanskrit conferences and the prestigious Koumudi Mahotsava by the Rashtriya Sanskrit Samasthan. Nandini says, “We have had some local sponsors, though we received no support from the DMK-led government. We are sure that the current CM being a multi-faceted personality herself will be keen on aiding us.”