Sacred sketches on the screen

Every artistic creation comes with its challenges. Here, the dancers faced difficulties in positioning themselves in front of the screen.
Sacred sketches on the screen

CHENNAI: The highest box office collection ever made was by the 2009 science fiction movie Avatar, undoubtedly receiving nine nominations at the Academy Awards. One of the features that makes the film stand out is its visuals, which is nothing less than a photorealistic world. The actors were filmed 360 degrees in a green-screened studio set to create this alternate world.

Green screens as backgrounds is a technique wherein computer graphics (CGI) or separately captured or created backdrop video replaces the background. Using this concept and highly inspired by the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, artistic director Aravinth Kumaraswamy created a dance film — Sita by Raja Ravi Varma. Put together by Apsara Arts Dance Company in 2021, the movie will be screened for the first time to the Chennai audience this weekend, in collaboration with Aalaap, a boutique art consulting and management company.

“In a few versions of the Ramayana, it is narrated that Sita goes back to her mother, the earth, leaving her kids Luv and Khush under Lord Rama’s care. In this magnificent painting, one can see the dismay on the face of Rama, the puzzled face of Sita, and Lakshmana’s shock. This inspired me to bring this painting to life,” says Aravinth.

This one-of-a-kind film comprises five paintings by the celebrated painter displayed as a backdrop and nine — one male and eight female — Bharatanatyam performers from Apsara Arts Dance Company emoting the painting. The dancers dressed up as Sita, Lakshmana, and Rama shot for eight hours a day for four months.

This 40-minute-long movie uses CGI technology. The nine music scores present the verses of Kambar and the vocals are by Bombay Jayashri Ramnath. The dance choreography is executed by Mohanapriyan Thavarajah who also designed costumes for the movie. “We usually source clothing from Chennai but since the film is a Covid baby, the choreographer took charge. Each dancer portraying Sita is adorned with replica costumes as painted by Raja Ravi Varma,” shares Aravinth.

Every artistic creation comes with its challenges. Here, the dancers faced difficulties in positioning themselves in front of the screen. “The performers are stage artistes and are used to a lot of space. But during the filming, with CGI positioning we had to guide them. In a scene where pregnant Sita is abandoned in the forest, we had to constantly navigate the performer so that it doesn’t look like she is hitting a tree while performing,” he explains.

Aravinth dedicates this work to the dance world. He says, “Consuming art digitally has become a norm. When a stage performance is put on digital media, the camera moves with the performer and the audience moves along with them. It is all three-dimensional now.” According to Akhila Krishnamurthy, founder of Aalaap, the amalgamation of digital and visual mediums is relevant to the world we live in. “Art should be packaged and presented in a way that makes you feel a part of it,” she adds. In this manner, people from other mediums get employment opportunities. “In this case, the graphic artistes are exposed to the dance world and the ecosystem becomes larger,” she concludes.  

‘Sita by Raja Ravi Varma’ will be screened on June 30 at Tagore Film Centre NFDC at 11 am. Tickets are priced at Rs 200. Visit: tikkl.com/aalaap/c/SITA 

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