Comedy is hard to do , but this one keeps you engrossed for three hours. Absolutely fantastic songs and dances , watch on youtube 'pussy cats have cut my path'. Beautiful photography , already declared a hit in India.
Singh is Bling Loved that fantastic Romanian castle , orange coloured spires, Amy Jackson a delight , a bit too young to sit in Akshays lap and she does slap him for getting excited! Loved the machine gun ring tone , clears the room in no time! What fantastic dancing on top of the dam , is it the hoover? Lara Dutta look alike in supporting role.
Jawani phir na aigi Pakistanis too seemed to have caught up with Bollywood , fantastic choreographed dance
Puli In Tamil , what a marvellous backgrround score. Sri Devi beautiful as ever plays the evil queen role, watch her in this dance. Also Shruti Hassan , daughter of Kamal Hassan as the leading lady. Sit back in a cinema if you can and enjoy the music. Look at this song from the movie Puli, the tiger
Masks worn during performances of Seraikella Chhau.
I was impelled to learn a masked form of Chhau, that of Seraikella currently in the state of Jharkhand, by several motivations. During my longest hiatus away from India, 1978-81, I had performed twice in the Los Angeles, California Festival of Masks performing Mayurbhanj Chhau of Baripada, Odisha, a non-masked form, and Manipuri Ras Jagoi. I wanted to be able to offer a masked genre of India in future and knew that the basic vocabulary of Seraikella Chhau movement is quite similar to that of Mayurbanj. This desire was fulfilled in 1984 as a Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival, Festival of Masks featured performer.
A deeper foundation for my interest was a long involvement with the professional world of puppetry and masked theatre nurtured by the department of puppetry at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Here I took classes, performed in commissioned works accompanied by live symphony orchestras, ushered for monthly puppet shows by internationally acclaimed artists and became secretary of the Detroit Puppet Guild while still in middle school which required amending the membership bylaws!
The lament of art and theatre arts teachers was that generally creating masks and puppets was seen as an art project that never saw them brought to life in action. Too often masks are seen as a work of art or craft without the raison d'être of their being explored or appreciated. This is more common in Western, or westernised sensibilities, than in those more connected to still vibrant mask and puppet traditions.
At core, the mask presents a sthai bhava, or the basic emotional state of a character. This changes significantly to reflect and mirror the dancer-actors physical expression of changing emotions to a remarkable degree. The mask is the character in a way that one's own face can only approximate, whether the moon or a bumblebee or Duryodana. When the mask is immobile we see only this, yet the moment the mask tips down a few inches or shifts slightly in any angle, we associate other feeling to the same face.
Communicating this reality prompted me to combine a Purulia and Seraikella Chhau Dance Mask Exhibition with movement and mask demonstrations in a gallery at Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi in 1988. I still remember the amazed delight of gallery goers as I took a mask from the wall and transformed the expressions shown simply holding by hand from behind; not even worn. The same transformation applies to a well-manipulated puppet, of course.
It is my understanding that originally Seraikella masks were made of bamboo and gourds, but from the 1920's the masks, costumes and choreography were transformed by Kumar Bijay Pratap Singh Deo, brother of Maharaja Adity Pratap Singh Deo. While both Mayurbanj and Seraikella Chhau flourished under royal patronage, in Seraikella the royals were hands-on in choreography and as dancers. This led to lyrical compositions and using nature as metaphor for man's condition in addition to the older compositions largely related to Mahabharata and Ramayana themes. The delicacy and refinement of the masks designed at this time reflect inspiration from both Indonesia and perhaps the Art Nouveau movement, both readily assessable to the Singh Deos. It was quite the rage in Europe starting from 1938 but unfortunately looming WWII brought and to international tours and Independence brought an end to royal patronage on a grand scale.
The masks themselves are layered cloth mache built up over a clay mold. The smooth surface is created by a top layer of almost liquid clay called slip. The masks are not very heavy but the design poses challenges to the dancer. Depending on where the eyeholes are placed, one may not be able to focus with both eyes on the stage or other space that affects orientation and balance. Even if the placement allows focus, peripheral vision is cut off and both good and bad lighting can make maneuvering on stage problematic. A greater issue is the close fitted mask design has nose openings that make breathing fine when not dancing but quickly lead to hyperventilation with the aerobic activity of actually dancing. Because of this, Seraikella Chhau dances are generally limited to 5-10 minutes maximum whereas Mayurbhanj Chhau dancers perform 15-20 minute dances (besides additional torso movement that is minimal in Seraikella and Purulia Chhau masked genres).
My enthusiasm to add Seraikella Chhau masked dances to my repertoire after six years of Mayurbanj Chhau might have been dampened if I had understood the investment fully. The experience of studying with Guru Kedarnath Sahoo in Seraikella was a wonderful exploration of culture and art, regardless of the fact that I was mid-pregnancy. I went to the Singhbhum district of what was then Bihar to begin my training. What was daunting, after learning Mayur and Sagar, was to find that the headgear for the masks were made of Benares silk brocade with elaborate beads and zari work decorated with artificial pearls. Under royal patronage, no expense was spared to make gorgeous costumes crown to toe. I now found that a five-minute performance would require, what was for me at the time, a significant contribution to the economy of Varanasi!
Fortunately for me, besides the LA Olympic Festival performance I did get opportunities to perform under the auspices of my guru and got good use out of my masks and costumes! Guru Kedarnath Sahoo included my solo with his troupe's performance at the Classical Indian Dance Traditions and Modern Theatre Seminar/Festival organised by Padatik, Calcutta, Bharatiya Natya Sangh and the International Theatre Institute in 1983. As the only non-native performer in the festival, my inclusion got interesting reactions. Guru Sahoo also invited me to perform at the annual Chaitra Parva Festival in Seraikella.
The masks of Purulia, like the movement technique itself, have a bold and earthier character and represent characters from Hindu mythology. The shimmering headgear effectively uses less costly materials and, developed without royal patronage by hardy agriculturalists, does not rely on fine silks.
Seraikella Chhau masks represent humans as both mythological characters as well as normal individuals from daily life, such as the boatman and his wife on the storming river of samskara. Animals, birds and even objects like the national flag, are personified with human faces.
Choreographer Raj Kumar Bijay Pratap Singh Deo created dances and masks representing ideas and seasons, notably marumaya (mirage), basanta (spring season) and ratri (night). A masked form of dance is ideally suited to express these concepts as the mask not simply portraying but is the concept. The dancer uses the entire body expressively to bring this liefmotif to life and develop the theme and variations.
I was fortunate to have my Seraikella masks made by the legendary national award winning mask maker, Baniprossona. Before needing performance masks to use on stage in the mid 1980's, I had collected others by this master in 1978, years before I ventured to learn the art myself. Collecting South and South Asian masks and puppets was my way of compensating for choosing dance over puppetry as a life focus. Several of Baniprossono's masks were displayed at the New York Library of Performing Arts during the Festival of India-USA along with some of my Purulia and Odisha collection. The magic of the mask is fundamental to Seraikella Chhau. I hope to return to other fundamentals of the martial arts based Chhau forms in future articles.
Sharon Lowen is a respected exponent of Odissi, Manipuri and Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chhau whose four-decade career in India was preceded by 17 years of modern dance and ballet in the
US and an MA in dance from the University of Michigan. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.