Maddali Soundarya Kaushik, does the name ring a bell. Yes, this Kuchipudi exponent is the daughter-in-law of Dr. Maddali Usha Gayatri, under whom she also made her Rangapravesham way back on August 2, 2014. Just as beautiful as her name, Soundarya shares that she got this name, thanks to her grandmother, Smt. Pasupuleti Sabari, from the spiritual book ‘Soundarya Lahiri’. “My Grandmother was a very spiritual person. She would perform every Pooja with such Bhakti – namely the Soundarya Lahari, Tirrupavvai and the Varalakshmi Vratham – and she made sure to involve us in all these activities. She would make us recite Slokas from the Gita, tell us stories of Ramayana and Bhagavatham, that’s where my foundation was laid,” says Soundarya.
She gives credit to her grandparents for whatever she is today as a person and as an artist. “While Dad was away in Gulf for employment, my mom was a full-time homemaker; she took care of the household, while my grandparents took the responsibility to bring us up with the right values and traditions. I am indeed blessed to have been brought up in this family which taught love and bonding over everything else in life,” recalls the Kuchipudi dancer.
Left it to Universe: Mincing no words, Soundarya agrees that Rangapravesham, as we all know, is a costly affair. “I was already pursuing my MBA; I had two younger sisters and an entire household which needed to stay afloat only with Dad’s income. So, I just left it to the Universe and thought to myself, if it has to happen it will someday… when the time is right. After marriage in February 2014, it was my husband Maddali Kaushik’s will and wish that I do it and He made it happen,” says the beautiful lady.
Out of curiosity, I popped the question, whether hers was a love marriage? Laughingly, she admitted Yes, it was. “In fact, this is one very common question, I get asked by almost everyone in the fraternity! But let me tell you, I met my husband in a totally different field, nowhere related to dance or art. I never knew for a while that his mother was Maddali Usha Gayatri Garu. The whole dance thing, just happened by fluke,” says Soundarya. She discloses that after completing her MBA, she took up part-time assignment with an event management company, which hosted events for corporates, that is where she met her husband Maddali Kaushik, in 2008, and love blossomed.
On balancing Nrutya Kinnera, passion, home and two young kids – Abhay and Aadya, Soundarya says: “When it comes to kids, My HUSBAND, is my support system. He loves the fact that I choose art and he supports me with whatever help I need at the time of performances or classes…etc. He is a very ‘hands on’ dad with our babies and I’m at comfort when I know he’s with them, that in turn helps me perform better,” says the mother.
Motherhood, a blessing: Soundarya affirms that all of us have bad days and at times it gets difficult, but it’s ok, it’s a temporary phase and quite common among female artists. “The beauty lies in doing it along with them, in the process we learn so much about them, about ourselves. When I don’t have help, I take my babies along with me to classes or programmes. Motherhood is a blessing. Fortunately, in India we are blessed with the joint family system, who help us, manage our house chores and passions/jobs…etc.,” says the dancer.
Soundarya has learnt Kuchipudi from two great stalwarts – Dr. P Rama Devi garu & Dr. Maddali Usha Gayatri garu. “Rama aunty – was the reason, I fell in love with Kuchipudi. When I wanted to restart learning dance (after the initial Bharatanatyam foundation I had in my childhood) I just approached her and the rest was history. She was indeed a great guru; she has provided various opportunities and platforms to showcase my talent. Rama aunty is extremely good at Abhinaya and sometimes I’d just copy her movement vocabulary,” she admits.
As far as Dr. Maddali Usha Gayatri garu is concerned, she has been and forever will be a great influence on Soundarya’s life. “Dr. Usha aunty (Athaya) – has redefined art in my life. Both my in-laws (Dr. Usha Gayatri garu & Raghuram garu) have given me immense number of opportunities to prove myself time-and-again. For any upcoming dancer, it is difficult to make herself familiar to the field as an artist. Performing for Nrutya Kinnera Dance productions, gave me such immense platform to reach out to the audience,” says Soundarya.
Quite Difficult: Pursuing Kuchipudi qualifications along with a full-time Corporate job, Soundarya admits it was quite difficult with the early morning classes, late night work shifts and regular weekend classes, “But with a helpful family, I could make it”. She quickly adds: “Personally, I feel that, a lifetime is not enough to pursue Art of one kind, and it shouldn’t be ‘managed’, but one should dive deep in it and enjoy there.”
Returning to dance after pregnancy, Soundarya says: “Like any other woman, for the first time, when I came to know I was carrying in 2016, I became very protective of myself, I didn’t do anything which I felt would harm the life inside me, and I took quite a long break of eight months after childbirth of getting back to dance.” She adds that when second pregnancy happened, in 2018, she was already leading the Habsiguda branch of Nrutya Kinnera. “I performed less and taught more. Until the last day of my pregnancy, I went to classes and taught my kids. But this time, since I was more confident and knew my body better and got back to dancing within five months and performed the lead role of “Ganga Devi” in “Gangavataranam” as a comeback, on the occasion of Dr. C. Narayana Reddy garu’s 88 Birthday celebrations at Jubilee Hills,” she says.
Dr. Usha garu disciplined: Finding a spot in ballets along with Usha Gayatri ma’am, Soundarya says that Usha aunty, is very disciplined when it comes to dance and she will not take you, if you don’t train, practice and perform well. “I equally have to prove my mettle with others. She’s never partial towards me (or anyone) and if I don’t fit a role, she very amicably turns me down. I learnt so much from her on how to handle students in this field of art. This also motivates me to be the best, at what I do,” says the co-artistic director.
Soundarya has probably performed twice or thrice along with Dr. Usha garu, where the younger artist usually plays the male role, while the senior artist plays the female lead in ballets… “I portray Krishna – when she plays Satyabhama. I was Nandudu while she was Yashodamma. At the beginning, I trembled but I learnt that once you’re on stage you are just the character and nothing else. You got to perform your part with utter discipline and we believe we did so,” claims the dancer.
Recollecting a dance incident closer to her heart, Soundarya says that it was in 2018, when she performed at NATA, in Philadelphia (USA), she was already four months into pregnancy and the show was planned much before she conceived. “My husband gave me all the mental strength and support to not give up on that programme and I went ahead and performed on the stage which was taken very positively by the audience and applauded,” she says.
Soundarya says performing before a live audience on a STAGE is any day the only place an Artist truly enjoys, but given the present-day conditions, “We must agree that the digital space is equally good enough to reach out to audiences, it gives one the freedom to plan performances at comfortable schedules, use own channel/pages/handles to promote ones work, and also gives audience the freedom to watch it at their leisure and quiet a lot of Pros to it, actually,” says Soundarya before signing off.