KOCHI: Her eyes shine bright whenever any topic related to classical dances come up for discussion. And there is no wonderment since dance is everything for 74-year-old Kalamandalam Mohana Thulasi whose disciples are today spread all over the world. It has been 55 years since Kalamandalam Mohana Thulasi began teaching classical dance at the school she set up at Kaloor. As her career as a dance teacher turns 55, her student Kavitha Raveendranathen pays tribute to her by making her ‘rangapravesam’ into the world of professional classical dancing on Saturday.
“Only a few students take up rangapravesam,” said Kalamandalam Mohana Thulasi. “Till date, only five of my students have done rangapravesam. The reasons are many but the most important one is the expenditure involved. Of course, rangapravesam can be held more simply but yet again not many can afford it,” she said. However, she beams with pride when she talks about Kavitha.
“She was a very naughty kid when she came to learn dance. It was like I don’t like it and many times I can’t do it! However, her mother was really into classical dancing and wanted her to learn it. So, I began taking special classes for her. And to behold! She is making her rangapravesam,” said the guru. According to her, the kids today have all the facilities and get the motivation needed to learn things.
“This was not the case during my childhood. Not only there was no avenue, but also dancing was frowned upon. No girls from good families were allowed to learn dance since it was associated with devadasis,” she said. However, my father never believed in such things, she added.“My father wanted me to learn classical dance and in 1955 when I turned 10 he got me enrolled at Kerala Kalamandalam,” said the guru. “I learnt bharatanatyam, mohiniyattam and kuchipudi. Even though I like all the three dance forms, kuchipudi has been very close to my heart since I began learning it after I married and had my kids,” she said.
She had done many stage programmes in her younger days but stopped after having her children. “In order to perform on the stage, you need to be not only proficient in the dance but also need to have a good figure. After giving birth twice, I felt that I gained weight,” said Kalamandalam Mohana Thulasi with a smile.
According to her, when it comes to art there are many factors that need to come together to make it aesthetic. “Not all body types are suited for all dance forms. For kuchipudi and bharatanatyam, the dancers need to be lean and have a good figure. While for mohiniyattam, chubbiness makes the movement even more endearing,” she said. According to her, Kavitha’s figure was suitable for kuchipudi and bharatnatyam, but since she had a flair for ‘bhava-abhinaya’, she guided her to take up kuchipudi.
Chiming in Kavitha said, “Do you know my guru is one of the lucky persons to learn kuchipudi under the tutelage of Natyakulaguru Padmabhushan Vempatti Chinna Sathyam.” According to her, Mohana Thulasi is the recipient of ‘Gurupooja’ award instituted by the Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Academy, Kalashri award from Kaladarppanam, ISCRA awards in 1990 and 1996, the honour from Gosri Gana Sabha, Kalasagar award in 2011and Gurushreshta award from Sree Sankara School of Dance and Music.
Gently brushing aside the praises being heaped on her by her disciple, Mohana Thulasi said, “Kavitha has the potential to become a very good dancer. She has an innate talent and passion for kuchipudi.” However, Mohana Thulasi has been a rare participant at the youth festivals.
“I don’t believe in them,” said Mohana Thulasi. “They are business avenues and are totally corrupt. I had the misfortune to be a judge at a youth festival and was left disillusioned. Since then I have not been to any youth festival nor do I advise my students to take part in them,” she says.