Saga Of a Freedom Fighter Enthralls

~GV Anna Rao

The Ministry of Culture, Govt of India and Shankarananda Kalakshetra premiered on Friday at Ravindra Bharathi the Classical Dance Theatre Production ” Manyam Veerudu – Alluri Sitaramaraju “. This ballet brought alive the extraordinary bravery, inspiring life and incomparable love for the motherland of Alluri Sitaramaraju – one of India’s greatest freedom fighters.

Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant in her original choreography with her signature pervading refined sense of aesthetics brought the story to life envisioning a heroic odyssey of a commanding warrior, who struck terror into the hearts of the colonial forces with a handful of followers and scripted a unique chapter in the freedom movement of India. His rebellion which countered the atrocities of the British through continuous armed struggle took two long years to quell even for a mighty Empire with limitless resources.

Lovely Narration: “The Monarch of the Clouds, marshalls his followers in the Skies with his leadership, Ramaraju of boundless valour commands his Forces on Earth “. This was the description of contemporary writer Radhakrishnamurthy whose Book was banned. Venkat Gadepalli’s stirring Telugu poetry was animated in a rousing soundscape by Sweta and Renuka Prasad alongside sonorous English narration by Jayant Dwarkanath. Research support was given by Krishnaprasad and Padmavathi.

The performance by 21 dancers was succinct (45 minutes) dwelling on the main highlights of this Hero’s brief but illustrious life of just 26 years. The opening scene of breaking dawn had a projection of the rosy sun in amber hue rising on a screen divided into a recessed central rectangular lunette flanked by smaller ones in order to dispel monotony, a unique touch by the designer Gunjan Ashtaputre.

Rusticized Movements: Irridiscent Mother of Pearl imagery captured the early morning Sky looking like frosted Glass. In this bucolic environment located in the Eastern Ghats Tribal People living in tune with their environment engaged in “Podu” a form of cultivation in the Jungle. A rusticized series of movements idealized by the grouped Bharatanatyam dancers clad in simple earth tones of sfumato colouring with minimal silver toned Jewellery was the opening scene.

The British Authorities headed by Kuchipudi artiste Surendranath playing the role of their leader burst in on this scene to impose the Madras Forest Act to outlaw this form of subsistence cultivation by all the ruthless methods in their armoury. In gorgeous gold, red and white uniform Surendranath with his soldiers emoted the diabolical necessity that any transgressions would be countered with brute force.

Wonderful Show By Mithun: Onto this melancholic environment, Mithun Shyam as Sitaramaraju appeared in lightning speed as though out of thin air striking the spectators with his tremendous presence picture perfect as Sitaramaraju in ochre coloured aharya and Bow in hand. His handsome dignified countenance radiated majesty in a heroic pose. He is perturbed by the simple Tribal People having their sylvan Forest Land turned into a forbidden place where trespassing would be severely punished thus making them lose their livelihood.

Mithun’s gravity defying leaps through the air throughout the ballet transfixed the audience. As he counters and vanquishes the British, he also trains the Tribals to take up whatever Arms like Spears that they have to hand and rise up in rebellion. The Soldiers are lulled and tricked into being rendered futile by various clever and wily means. They are picturised comically en deshabille to display their complacence which leads to their defeat in the early stages.

However, realising that these simple arms like Spears and Arrows would not always work Ramaraju hits upon the idea of purloining Guns to add modern Weaponry to their Arsenal. Police stations are raided with considerable success and a small but formidable force is raised.

Why Name Sita Added: In the course of this training, a brief idyll with Sita is poignant as Ramaruju loses her and to commemorate his immense affection he adds Sita to his name. This dazzling Pas de Deux of Neha Sathanapalli with Mithun was stunning to behold as they levitated effortlessly sailing across the stage. The duels of Sword, Stick and Gun fights occurring simultaneously gave the scene a chiaroscuro effect adding visual richness and depth resembling a Neo-classical Painting.

A raised narrow Platform bordering the back of the stage enabled viewers to clearly discern the varied fields of action taking place. An interlude of the dancers spinning long multi-coloured Ribbons through space in kaleidoscopic patterns was also entrancing. When the British regrouping finally with overwhelming reinforcements surround Sitaramaraju and he attains a glorious martyrdom the question is still left hanging – whether he succumbed or still lived on in the hearts of his followers and those he inspired to carry on the struggle for freedom; as it is not possible by mortal means to destroy the immortal ideal of Independence.

Thus, the saga was told through dance of how a Hero transmitted the fragrant essence of freedom to future generations to succeed in attaining and cherish.  

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