In 2011 documentary film director Sumantra Ghosal was introduced, through common friends, to Bharatanatyam dancer Malavika Sarukkai. “I did not have any deep understanding of the dance form, but Malavika came across as an exciting subject. I found her to be articulate, thoughtful and supremely talented,” says Ghosal, who has recently finished editing the 98-minute documentary film The Unseen Sequence on the Bharatanatyam exponent.
A complex art form
Ghosal confesses that the process of making this film has made him watch the dance with more sensitivity. “As I researched, I realised that Bharatanatyam is a complex art form and it cannot be mastered in a couple of years. Malavika is a product of the new form of Bharatanatyam, which evolved in the ’30s when it underwent democratisation and shed its cult Devadasi status,” says Ghosal.
While helming the film, he was conscious not to make Sarukkai perform just for the camera. “I felt that would look too staged, and thus we only shot live performances, though I have included archival material as well,” says Ghosal, explaining that the movie is not a biopic about Sarukkai’s career or life history.Were there any creative differences, we ask curiously. “If I wasdancing with the camera, or she took charge of the photography, yes we would have had many differences. But, the disciplines of each of our art forms are different,” laughs Ghosal. He concludes, “It is really the subject that chose me. I knew this was a dance that went back into the culture, history and mythologyof India. However, even after making the film, I still do not understand the nuances of this complex art form. What I hope you will learn or find in the documentary is how an artist interacts with her art.”
The film will be screened at National Centre for Performing Arts(NCPA) on September 19
What made you agree to be part of this film?
When Sumantra proposed the idea, I felt it was the right thing to do. The kind of person he is, his research was thorough. It is not enough knowing a subject, you have to be involved and bring another dimension to the subject.
What is the film about?
It is the story of an artiste and her journey and choices. It is what inspired me to dance, and kept me on the path. It deals with why does one want excellence, my involvement in my art, and the philosophy of art and the history of Bharatanatyam.
How was you experience while making the film?
We shot for hours, and the interviews were at length which we did over a period of one year. This film has given me a pointer to my art. Ghosal has managed to capture some of my very personal intense moments. I have got a deeper sense of my art.