Bengaluru Nagarathnamma: An extraordinary woman

 thehindu.com  01/16/2020 10:55:35 

Tribhuvanae... ae& ae& ae& the way Bengaluru Nagarathnamma sings the Mukunda Mala stothram (available on YouTube), is rather different.

The rendition is in a higher octave, stronger and the lines are sharply cut with less gamakam. The play Vidyasundari Bengaluru Nagarathnamma, premiered at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall in Bengaluru recently, begins with Pusthakam Ramaa singing almost in the same tone but with softer lines and gamakas reflecting contemporary Carnatic music.

It is the Samadhi of Saint Tyagaraja that the audience face when the curtain goes up. Two groups  Peria Katchi and Chinna Katchi  are fighting over the conduct of Tyagaraja aradhana. Bengaluru Nagarathnamma enters with several devadasis and conducts her own Aradhana.

Young Bannibai (later a Harikatha legend), who was adopted by Nagarathnamma, is introduced. The Aradhana pulls a crowd but is cut short by a fire started by a jealous miscreant.

Vidyasundari Bengaluru Nagarathnamma is a musical produced by Sangeeta Sambhrama in Kannada with Tamil and Telugu (also English) dialogue, where required, directed by eminent theatre and movie director Nagabharana. Pusthakam Ramaa has composed the music. Taking inspiration from V. Srirams The Devadasi and the Saint: The life of Times of Bengaluru Nagarathnamma and the Kannada novel Vidyasundari of Maleyuru Guruswamy, the play has been adapted by Prathibha Nandakumar and Hooli Sekar.

The script moves fast  touching the milestones  the life of young Nagarathna in Nanjanagudu near Mysore, her education in languages and music, her mother Puttalakshamma falling into penury, the move to Bengaluru, the death of her mother, the musical prowess of Nagarathna, the meeting with judge Narahari Rao, who became pivotal to her rise, the Diwan (Pulikeshi Kasturi, who is also the choreographer), who advises Narahari Rao to not take the official carriage and an uniformed attendant to meet Nagarathna, the building of a house for Nagarathna on a small hillock that Narahari names Mount Joy, which eventually comes to be known as Narahari Rayas gudda, the break up of the couple and the reunion with Nagarathna singing the javali Maathaada baarade...? (wont you talk to me?). Young Nagarathna and Narahari were enacted with involvement and empathy by Ananya Bhat and Nitin.

Then comes Nagarathnas move to Madras, the friendship with Veena Dhanammal (Nagini Bharana), the accumulation of wealth, building of a huge house, inviting her guru Bidaram Krishnappa (Vageesh Krishna) to sing Kannada songs in Madras, coyness giving way to confidence and strength, (essayed with authority by Deepthi Srinath).

Nagarathna visits Tyagaraja Samadhi in Tiruvaiyaru for the first time and is dismayed to find it in a state of disarray. She cleans it up and decides to build a new one. In order to do that she sells her jewellery and house (she exchanges her fertile land for a barren plot to build it).

The climax shows her final resting place in front of the samadhi. Her story is sung in a gripping Harikatha style, embellished with great music. P. Ramaa makes a dignified senior Nagarathnamma.

Some artistic licence seems to have been taken in the depiction of the friendship between Nagarathnamma and Veena Dhanammal. Was Dhanammal present when Nagarathnamma went to see the Samadhi of Tyagaraja for the first time? Did she dance?

Nagarathnammas famed sense of humour could have been highlighted too. Some glitches were noticed in the sets, which can easily be rectified in the future. This is the story of an extraordinary woman, told with quality dance and music combining dramatic production values.

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