Thevar Mahal

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Embracing Borders - Research Project

A feature length film that unravels the true history, culture and story behind not only the most famous, ancient Indian Classical Dance form, Bharathanatyam, but India itself.

Kali is a Bharathanatyam dancer from humble beginnings. In his 3rd year at Bharath Kendra he sits and reminisces the break he got in life, a scholarship at the famous dance school Bhartha Kendra. It was started by a lady of great stature, everyone called her Ammai.

He recalls first walking into the premises her feels small but very grateful. Kali never would’ve imagined to be studying with foreign students and students from wealthy backgrounds, but here he was and things were going well.

Now it is 3rd year and he has a history project to do. Kali decides to write the story of Bharathanatyam. He thought he knew the story until something was no longer talling up.  If Bharathanatyam is thousands of years old, why, weren’t any prominent artists recorded prior to the 1940s.

 

Kali starts to search  for answers. In his journey he comes across, an old lady who lived near Tanjore, She was a retired professor. The professor has many notes about Devadasis. Kali had always looked at sculptures on the walls of temples and thought of them as mythical creatures along with the dragons and other creatures carved on the walls. However, Mrs Gauri had another story. Kali became very curious. Mrs Gauri directed him to a girl named Samudra.

 

Samudra lives in Chennai, she is one of the very few practicing hereditary dancers. She takes Kali on a journey from Tanjore, where her ancestors flourished under the rule of the great Cholas, to the yester year silver screens of Kollywood and to the kucheri sabahs of Mylapore, where today she struggles to get a slot to perform.

 

“Some facebook posts say " Unfortunately the nattuvanar parampara does not exist anymore " , which is nothing but making sure the DEMISE of the isaivellalar parampara and people like me is STAGED and last nail on the coffin is hammered nice and tight so then they can dance the most AUTHENTIC NATTUVANAR dance, while dancers like me from isaivellalar paramparais who dance possibly after several generations of women in the community being denied the right to dance are delegitimised and trashed.”

 

Kali is shocked at the enraged words of Nrithya who fights to keep her identity and the names of her ancestors alive.

 

Kali comes to know that the Isai Vellar community has been the predecessor of art in India, especially South India. They were known as the community that developed the arts. It was a matriarchal community where women owned the riches and the power. They enjoyed statuses of Queens.Thevar Mahal.. Nakkan.. Devadasi.. Thevar Adiyal… these were the names given to the revered dancers who once graced the temples and courts of India. Kings and noble men yearned to be in their presence. Ladies of the court admired them. They were the living goddesses married to the Lord.

 

He wonders, how women of such stature been reduced to derogatory terms such Thevadiya.. ? How is that they were forced into hiding and shunned from society as mere prostitutes.  Not only was their status snatched away, but their art as well. How did this society allow it?

 

Nrtihya questions, fights, tries to understand and hopes to resolve this situation. As she looks ahead, her vision for a future that acknowledges her ancestors for centuries worth of artistic contribution and apologises for the hardships and shame endured, glisten in her eyes.

 

Kali’s encounter with Nrithya  unravels, the story of Bharathanatyam and the story behind this forced downfall of an entire community of artists.  The worst part is that Ammai and the rise of Kalakendra was involved in this.

 

Kali is now caught between the just fight that Mudra is involved in and his gratitude towards Kalakendra and Ammai

 

Thevar Mahal is a enriching Feature film that looks to undo the knots of the past in hope to create a better future.

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