Revered dance maestro Guru Gopalakrishnan, 85, who devoted his life for dance forms like Kerala Natanam, passed away in Chennai on Wednesday following a brief illness.
He leaves behind wife Kusumam, a distinguished dancer, children Vinod and Apsara. The pioneer, who created and popularised Kerala Natanam, the simplified version and adaptation of Kathakali, breathed his last at 3 am in Chennai and was cremated there in the evening.
His life story, marked with simplicity, is an epitome of tremendous hard work, commitment and rare grit.
Born on April 9, 1926, at Kodungallur to Nanthialath Madhava Menon and Changaradi Ammalu Amma, Gopalakrishnan was destined to pursue a career in dance with his parent’s support. Though he had desired to learn Kathakali from the masters here, fate brought him to Madras in the early 40s and he came in contact with the legendary Guru Gopinath.
Guru Gopinath was an established choreographer in films during that time, and Gopalakrishnan got a firm foothold in the dance and film world by becoming a member of Guru Gopinath’s team.
Eventually, he was promoted to become a lead dancer in Guru Gopinath’s troupe.
Later, his stint with Gemini Studios, where he was employed as a full-time dancer, helped him span his career as a well known dancer in film world.
‘Neelakuyil’ was his debut Malayalam movie as a choreographer. It won President’s silver medal at the national film festival. From there on, he choreographed several films, including ‘Sitaramakalyanam’, ‘Jeevithanouka’ and ‘Amma’.
He had secured many awards and accolades. He was a much sought-after choreographer in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and Singhala movies then.
During this period, he had regularly visited PSV Natya Sangam at Kottakkal as part of learning extensively from Guru Vazhenkadu Kunju Nair, under whom he
completed his rangapravesam. In 1953, he visited China with the first Indian cultural delegation and had also performed a dance-drama based on Bhagawad Gita with Guru Gopinath at Teen Murti Bhavan on Nehru’s special request and he had the opportunity to meet Mao Tse Tung and Chou En Lai.
In 1956, he established his own troupe named Bharatiya Ballet Troupe with M B Sreenivasan as music director. Renowned musician R K Shekhar, father of A R Rahman, was a harmonium player in his orchestra during that time. Guru Gopalakrishnan and wife together created a unique method ‘Drishyakatha’ narrative, a blend of Kerala Natanam, free dance style and folk forms.