Rewind: Mallika Sarabhai on her relationship with Mrinalini Sarabhai

Jan 22, 2016, 09:43 IST | Suprita Mitter

In an interview to mid-day in August 2015, Mallika Sarabhai discussed her relationship with her danseuse mother and a dream called Darpana. Select excerpts

On her relationship with Mrinalini Sarabhai
I was never a direct student of Amma's but started working with her when I joined the Company [Darpana] in late 1976. It was as though I could read and interpret her every thought. The first time we performed together was in a performance called Mira, where she choreographed for the two of us. I played the external Mira, she the internal. It was as if we were a one person.

Also Read: Celebrated danseuse Mrinalini Sarabhai passes away at the age of 97

Mrinalini and Mallika Sarabhai
Mrinalini and Mallika Sarabhai

On Mrinalini establishing Darpana Academy
Darpana was established by my father and space scientist Vikram Sarabhai and Amma in Ahmedabad. Initially, my dad handled the administration while Amma was the artistic head. For a while, it was running on autopilot. I took over in 1977. Various forms including theatre, dance and puppetry co-existed at Darpana. It's an arts center where the arts meet society, to inform, educate and transform.

Read Story: Mallika Sarabhai to make a film on mother Mrinalini's life

I realised that we had so many excellent teachers each of whom believed in using their medium for helping better society. Kailash Pandya was doing it with theatre; Meher Contractor with puppetry and Amma with dance. We had so much talent and dedication under one roof. It was important to organize and channelise it so that we could put up acts that included diverse mediums to bring about change. In 1980, we established Darpana for Development (D for D) to focus attention on creating behavioural change communication. Government departments, ministries and other non-government agencies began partnering with D for D to educate the public in issues of health, education and women empowerment. Over the next two decades, D for D became the fastest growing segment of Darpana.

The challenges of running Darpana with Mrinalini
Initially, funding was a major issue. People told us they didn't want to spend money on 'naach gaana'. There is statistical evidence to prove that using art to create social awareness is far more effective than advertising.

On the documentary on Mrinalini and her work, Mrinalini Sarabhai: The Artist and her art; 2012
Amma started using classical styles to discuss issues that bothered her as early as 1949. She was the first classical dancer to do it. Her work touches dowry deaths, Dalit and tribal issues, violence and the destruction of environment. The film [by Yadavan Chandran] traces this journey and for it, we recreated some of her seminal pieces interweaving conversations with her. Yadavan has placed the entire film in a black box setting, integrating Amma into each of the pieces, although she is not dancing in them. In a sense, he too adds to the choreography by allowing audiences to see aspects of the dance they would normally not see from that perspective.
–Suprita Mitter

Renowned musicians pay tribute to Mrinalini Sarabhai

A great loss
Birju MaharajPandit Birju Maharaj, Kathak dancer
I was deeply saddened to hear about this. It is a loss to the entire art world. I had the opportunity to meet her many times and we shared a mutual respect and love for each other. She used to praise my work too. As a dancer, she had a unique way of portraying the bhav (expressions) on her face, which was mesmerising.

Uma DograUma Dogra, Kathak dancer
My first encounter with Mrinalini Sarabhai was in 2001-02 at a new stage created by Drama Udyog at Udaipur. I was going to perform with my group while she was there with her students. While I never had an opportunity to share the stage with her, just to perform on the stage where she would be performing with her students was a blessing in itself. She had a certain elegance, poise and grace about her which is missing in most new-age dancers. With her, that era of dancers has gone. Once I remember, we were sitting together in a group and someone asked her, 'What is the secret behind your success' and she replied, 'As an artiste to be successful, you don't need to rely on anything else except your hard work and of course, a good guru'. What set her apart was the way she kept tradition intact, she never tried to fuse modern dance forms in her performances. Also, she put her money into a space like Natarani (the ampitheatre by Darpana dance academy in Ahmedabad) which actually helps other artistes. How many would do that today?

Hariprasad ChaurasiaPandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, flautist
I have had many opportunities to meet Mrinalini Sarabhai and have learnt a lot from her. I used to love her work and demonstrations. The entire family is extremely sophisticated and her daughter, Mallika, has been extremely supportive. I remember we were at an international concert and we needed a tanpura player. Since we couldn't find one, she (Mallika Sarabhai) played it for me.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, sarodist
It's a loss to the world of art and culture and especially, dance. She was the one who showed Ahmedabad, and the world, what Bharatnatyam really is. She was very fortunate to have a husband like Vikram Sarabhai, who gave her full support to pursue her creativity. She was a great choreographer; her ballets were excellent. Her daughter Mallika Sarabhai has imbibed her teachings and is carrying forward her legacy and tradition. As a human being, she possessed a lot of dignity and elegance. In 1977, I had conducted a festival in my father's memory and invited her for a performance. She graciously accepted the invitation and her performance was stunning.

(Inputs by Krutika Behrawala)

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