Kuchipudi dancer Rohini Kandala is thankful to Sri Bhagavatula Sethuram garu for her career as a dancer. Speaking to Natyahasini, Rohini Kandala says that Sethuram Sir’s style is very unique. He inspires students to understand the undercurrent idea and concept of every presentation and get a hold of it. In 2001, Rohini had enrolled for Masters in PS Telugu University, but could not pursue as she had to join her husband in Agra.
“Some bonds are destined to be. That’s all I can say of my association with sir. I was not serious about dance as a career for a very long time though I had lot of passion to learn the art. Because of the transferable nature of my husband’s job, I was not in Hyderabad, however, I would ensure I met both Late Uma Rama Rao aunty and sir whenever I visited Hyderabad. I had always wanted to keep in touch with my gurus,” she says.
Massive Support: Rohini says she can’t recollect when the shift happened or what led to the shift. “As I said, some bonds are destined to be, which no plausible reasons can justify. My attitude, perspective, learning, presentation, technique, approach towards dance, just about everything underwent a massive transformation under Sethuram sir’s training and guidance. Any appreciation that I may have received as a performer in these years I attribute totally to his training,” she says. The dancer adds that Sethuram sir has been a father figure handholding her through various aspects of understanding the art form and making her not just a performer but a thinking artist. “He has always inspired me to think out of the box and venture into new arenas, throwing challenge after challenge at me and sharpening me with each assignment,” she says.
Thanks to her height or personality, Rohini would easily get cast in male roles. “The first innings had me playing many characters like Rama, Krishna, Arjuna, Shiva etc. Then was a phase where I was given female leads too. Playing Ganga, Gauri, Sita, Gandhi, Renuka Bhogini etc. The enriching experience allowed me to grow as a performer comfortable to take up male and female roles with equal ease,” says the dancer. Apart from dancing, she gave lec- dems on various platforms like Silicon Andhra Convention, CCRT, IIIT Hyderabad etc. which helped her to work with an academic perspective.
Theatre Productions: She says that Sethuram sir has a unique ability to explain characterizations in layers drawing similes from present life conditions and makes understanding very real and up-to-date. “He is a very hard task master and over the years his approval has somehow become a yardstick of a decent presentation to me. Dramatization is Forte of traditional families,” she underlines. The dancer states that Sethuram sir was the one who urged her to be part of a theatre production. “I have played the main lead in two big theatre productions as Nagamma in ‘Nayakuralu Nagamma’ and Rudrama Devi in ‘Pratapa Rudrama’. My work in both the plays has been highly appreciated and the experience has been quite gratifying,” she says beamingly.
After her Certifications and Masters in Kuchipudi, Rohini has set her eyes now on Ph. D. She says: “As I had always done well in academics, research work was next and being a performer, chose a topic with practical applicability for research, ‘Hastabhinayam – Sri Hastamuktavali Grandha Pariseelana’. It is a topic related to gesticulation and I am hopeful my research shall provide some valuable inputs to people interested in the subject matter. Dr. Ratnasri Sudhakar is my guide,” Rohini says.
She reveals that she was enrolled under Sadhana Paranji to learn Bharatanatyam by her mother when she was seven years old. “I was quite reluctant to learn dance, though my mother was very keen. It’s only at the age of 13 that the dancing bug bit me. Arts was however in my genes. Maternal grandfather was a Harikatha exponent. Mom and aunt were into classical music,” she says.
Fascination for Plate Dance: The dancer acknowledges that like most girls, she was fascinated by the plate dance of Kuchipudi. “That was probably the seed of interest to learn the art form. I expressed the same desire to my first guru Smt. Sadhana Paranji. Akka then said, she’ll start Kuchipudi once I get a certain strength in Bharatanatyam style. However, I could not start Kuchipudi with akka as she left for the US after marriage. Then I joined under Late Dr. Uma Rama Rao garu. Those days in ‘Laasyapriya’ it was common that many girls learnt both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi under Uma aunty. That’s how I started learning Kuchipudi,” she says.
Rohini accepts that she did not understand back then, but now in retrospect she realises what a blessing it was to be under the tutelage of Uma Rama Rao garu though for a short period. “I had joined for Bharatanatyam, but as I was keen in Kuchipudi, started parallelly learning it as well. I remember I had appeared for Diploma in Bharatanatyam and Certificate in Kuchipudi just after a year of joining Uma aunty and cleared both with distinction,” she says. Rohini attributes this totally to Uma aunty as there was no restriction to learn in limits, as it is today. “You learn as you can absorb, that freedom was given. Her mastery over laya and ease with which she would do choreography left a strong impact on my impressionable mind. The ease I feel in understanding rhythm is thanks to Uma aunty,” says the dancer.
The talented artist says that every dance form is beautiful and unique in its own way. She says: “As one matures as an artist one becomes appreciative of every form as one understands the intrinsic strength of each form. I started with Bharatanatyam and then moved to Kuchipudi. I am extremely fond of Kathak and absolutely love the technique of Odissi. Vilasini is a very native and engaging dance form. These are my favourite forms and someday I shall at least learn one of it.”
Learning Music Helps: Laasyagna founder says that learning music is extremely helpful for a person, who wants to seriously pursue dance. “Learning mrudangam was to try and learn something new. I learnt it for just about a year not much. This helped me better my grip on laya aspect and I am thankful to my Sir Nageswar Rao garu. I could, however, not continue it because of the Covid situation. Sruti maata, laya pitha – a fair understanding of rhythm and music elevates the perspectives of a dancer,” she states and adds that she doesn’t want to foray into Nritya Sangeetam.
Married to Group Captain KDV Prasad, IAF, Rohini says that it’s an absolute pride for her to be part of the IAF family. “I am highly emotional about being a part of Forces. Life in Forces, life outside – two different worlds altogether. There is a strange kind of fearlessness, preparedness and readiness that you can observe in anyone who have lived life in Forces, not just the soldiers but their wives and children,” she says. The dancer states that as an artist cannot thrive without a strong support system, her husband is a strong pillar of support all through. “We are from two totally different fields with no connection whatsoever. Over the years, he understood my challenges as a performer and teacher and his support grew stronger,” Rohini says and adds that it is an honour to perform for the IAF family.
Rohini established Laasyanga School of Kuchipudi in 2017 and has a strength of 50 students. “Presently, I am taking only online classes. For few senior students, there is one on one session,” she says. The dancer has a soft corner for Kuchipudi village and would love to perform there, time and again. “The place where the art form germinated. There is something about the village, it’s an awe-inspiring feeling for me,” she says and accepts that her happiness lies in dancing.