How the documentary on dance guru C V Chandrasekhar was born

The documentary, ‘Nrithya Gandharva – Prof. C. V. Chandrasekhar, His Art & Life’, sketches the life of dance guru, choreographer and musician C.V. Chandrasekhar. A detailed description of its making.

It was in the year, 2000, I first met legendary dancer and choreographer Padmabhushan Guru C V Chandrasekhar. I had heard a lot about this amazing artist from my friend dancer-musician Dr Rajashree Warrier. Chandrasekhar came for a performance at the annual festival of Kottakkal Viswambhara temple in the Malappuram district. The crowd was not that big. But a few people went to the green room and congratulated Chandrasekhar, who was in his early seventies, for his excellent show of pure, classical Bharatanatyam. This was a new experience for me. It also opened up a door for a warm personal relationship with the great master and his family, especially Jaya aunty, his wife, who is also an artist.

Cut to 2012, we met again for a Bharatanatyam workshop at Trichur. It was organized by Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi. Between the intervals of the programme, we spoke at length about art and music. During our conversation, I informally asked Chandru sir about the possibility of making a documentary on him. His reply was very interesting. “Nobody asked me this before. Even I didn’t think of this until you mentioned it. I only want to dance.” – a nice smile appeared on his handsome face. 

Idea to action

In 2018, I went to Chennai to meet Chandru sir for a detailed interview for a publication. I spent almost a day with him. The interview was very casual. While returning home, I discussed this with my friend Dr Madhavi Mallampalli, an ayurvedic doctor by profession and a Kuchipudi dancer by passion. Madhavi expressed her willingness to produce the documentary. The very next year on August 15th we started the shooting of the documentary at ‘Attakkalari’, a performing space in Bengaluru, where Chandrasekhar was conducting a workshop. 

Subsequently, we did shooting at Chennai, where he spent his childhood and Varanasi where his vibrant academic and creative career at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) was bloomed. It was the most memorable experience in our documentary making. 

 We visited ‘Vasanth Kanya Maha Vidyalaya’ where he worked as a dance teacher and at the performing arts department of BHU. Though it was a holiday many of the students, teachers came there to see their loving Guru. Many dance scholars and his students shared their experiences with him. 

Our next mission was to explore Chandru sir’s work at Vadodara. We shot at places such as M S University Bangalow (where he was spearheading the work of the dance department at the M.S. University, Baroda)

After Varanasi and Vadodara, we met eminent Bharatanatyam exponents including Vyjayanthimala Bali, Padma Subramaniam, Chitra Visweswaran, the Dhanajayans and Leela Samson. And all of them talked with adoration and love to the great dancer.

The preview

The shooting was completed in March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the post-production work of the documentary. We finished the first round of editing in December. From there we had to rush for the final cut and fix a date for the release of the documentary as the health condition of Chandru sir was a bit worse by that time.  

It was a hectic period for Madhavi and me because we had booked the preview theatre for January 24th. A small gathering of 50 people was invited and the preview was highly satisfactory to all of us.

I consider this was the destiny for me to do such a work on a great personality in the art firmament of the country. The opportunity came to me only because of Madhavi’s passion and her trust in the project.

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