Love as a Haiku
By VISHNU MAKHIJANI
After the resounding success of their “Colours” trilogy that juxtaposes the lives of Indian women in today’s India with the ideals behind the three colors of the national flag as envisioned by the founding fathers, the husband and wife duo of writer-director A.K. Srikanth and Bharatanatyam exponent Savitha Sastry now offer viewers “Beyond the Rains”, a gentle yet powerful film that tugs at the heartstrings, albeit in a more subtle sense.
Framed like a Haiku – a Japanese poem in 17 syllables with much the same nuance and maturity that the Japanese poetry form is famed for, the film delicately portrays the emotion of love as understood by a retired old dancer struck by senility, who lives in her memories, and a young girl who is looking to the future alone.
“Srikanth’s idea was to create a film that impacted its viewers in the same manner that a beautifully written Haiku would,” Savitha explained.
“The story is structured roughly in three parts and there is a persistent rain that follows the narrative, as though adding to the flavor and context of the story. It follows a love story as viewed through the eyes of a senile old lady who was a dancer in her youth, and a young reporter who is an ambitious young girl of these times. The old lady is a Phantom from the past, and the young girl a no-nonsense journalist. The juxtaposition of these two views makes for most of the narrative.
“I tried to ensure that the choreography echoed the same gentleness with which the story was being narrated. In fact, the director’s vision to us all was that he wanted to create a film that had the tenderness of a dew drop about to fall from a leaf,” Savitha elaborated
“Beyond the Rains” is based on a short story titled “The Girl in the Bubble” written by Srikanth. While the story was written sometime in 2019, the duo was busy with other projects and also hampered in keeping to the deadlines of completing those projects because of the pandemic.
“When the eColours’ trilogy was complete, we thought perhaps it was time to bring this story to celluloid, also given the fact that it was completely different in genre to the trilogy (or anything else we had attempted before this). In the second half of 2021 we started work on this project, and it was in Jan. 2022 that we completed the film,” Savitha said.
How and why was the Haiku zeroed in on?
“We chose it only for the effect it has on its readers. There is a gentleness and an element of nature that a Haiku usually uses, and we tried to tell a tale on film where nature (in this case, the rains), and the narrative seamlessly merge to form a story that is nuanced and delicate, and yet impactful,” Savitha said.
“The dances are all pure Bharatanatyam with no amalgamation with any other art form, and the story is completely based in an Indian context,” she added.
Besides showcasing the beauty of Bharatanatyam in all its elegance, the film also highlights a stellar performance by debutant Sneha Sridhar, playing the role of a young girl juxtaposed with the ideologies of the older woman.
“The Dancing Storyteller” and “Renaissance Architect of Bharatanatyam”, are some of the affectionate epithets that have been showered on Savitha by critics and audiences at large.
For three decades till the early 2000s, she mostly performed traditional repertoires but also took steps towards full length thematic productions through works such as “Purushartha” and “Krishna the Supreme Mystic”. It was in the second half of the 2000s that she embarked on projects that showcased novel stories rather than stories taken from mythology or religion as is common in classical Indian arts.
Her first production, “Music Within”, which released in 2010, took the arts world by a quiet storm. Based on the history of music as narrated by a deaf and dumb child, it went on to play across the globe and was much appreciated for its finesse, subtility and entertainment values. Savitha’s foray in this direction stemmed from the fact that she wanted to take Bharatanatyam to an audience that was neither conversant nor interested in the art form.
In the 2010s, Savitha and Srikanth jointly created some of the most memorable works from her production company. Written and directed by Srikanth, and choreographed by Savitha, these productions, including “Soul Cages” (2012), “Yudh” (2013), “The Prophet” (2013) and “Chains: Love Stories of Shadows” (2015), played over 100 shows in very prestigious venues across the India, the US, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa and South east Asia.
Her work even got the critics to declare that Savitha is as much “the renaissance architect of Bharatanatyam as Rukmini Devi Arundale was in her times”.
“Our mission is to popularize Bharatanatyam amongst the current generation, who have moved on to alternative (often western or Bollywood) forms of entertainment, by presenting novel stories and an edge-of-the-seat experience through classical dance,” Savitha maintained.
What of the future? What’s the duo’s next project?
“We have commenced work on our next project titled “The Shrine”, which we hope will release around Apr. or May this year. It is a wry and yet touching look at the philosophy of evolution and rebirth. I am also busy with my project e The Gurkula, an immersive program where a handful of students live with me to learn dance and all aspects around it including fitness, all the way to how we make our films. I am also busy with my online Bharatanatyam community e The Inner Circle, a free online resource for all dancers,” Savitha concluded.