A renowned Mohiniyattam dancer and actor Kalabhavan Mani’s younger brother Dr RLV Ramakrishnan speaks about his life and the history of Mohiniyattam on the occasion of International Dance Day which is celebrated on April 29 across the world. He also sends out a message for today’s generation during his exclusive interview with mathrubhumi.com.
Artforms are usually inculcated as part of cultural heritage. But I did not have such an opportunity where I could learn from someone. When we are interested in a subject, we would try to gain as much knowledge from it. During my childhood, I used to watch dance programmes. I would come back home and try doing the dance moves. Due to financial problems, I was not able to learn dance from a professional. I had studied in a government school in Chalakudy. A teacher used to come there in order to teach dance. I used to watch her from the window. I would return to my class and repeat whatever she had done. That is when I realized my love for dance and the drive in me to learn it. Unfortunately, the student who was being taught by the dance teacher could not make it to the performance day. I got an opportunity to dance. That was my first performance on stage. From 5th grade, I started learning dance under RLV Anand sir.
I was good in studies too. I had dreamt of being a doctor. Following this dream, I joined K.K.T.M College. Even while dissecting cockroaches and lizards, dance was in my mind. I decided to quit college. Later, I joined R.L.V College in Thrippunithura. I joined with the dream of learning dance. I was learning Bharatanatyam already. Therefore, I wanted to continue studying it. But fate had something else in store for me. There was only one seat left and that was in Mohiniyattam. I joined hoping to learn Mohiniyattam in my first year and then switch to Bharathanatyam during my second year. That didn’t happen. Fate again! I was the only male student in my class. I completed the four-year diploma course and joined the same college for post-diploma. While I was doing my post-diploma there, our college had received university affiliation. Dance became a degree course in Kerala for the very first time. The thought that I won’t be getting a degree was upsetting when I was quitting my first college. This last minute change tuned out to be a boon. I worked hard and wrote all the exams. I completed my M.A in Mohiniyattam with 1st rank. I joined as a guest lecturer in the same college and worked there for a few years. But that was not enough. I wanted to learn more. After completing my lectures in college, I would go to Kalamandalam Kalyanikuttyamma’s children to learn dance. Dance was the only thing in my mind then.
Apart from this, there is another world. The glamorous world as Kalabhavan Mani’s brother which was filled with movies, songs, and dramas. Those things never deviated me from my path. I wanted to devote myself to dance. My brother wanted to teach me an art form which he couldn’t learn. His constant support has made me what I am today. RLV Anand sir and my brother are my role models. Both of them grew up without a teacher and had to go through a lot of struggle in order to be what they are. I grew up seeing their growth. This had inculcated a drive in me to be a successful person like them. I chose education as a path to achieve this. I completed integrated M.Phil with PhD securing 1st rank. A stereotype that when Mohiniyattam was performed by men, they had to dress like a woman used to exist then. They had internalized that ‘Mohini’ represents women. The thought that why should I dress as a woman provoked me.
During its initial days, dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathak, and Manipuri was a way of exploiting women's beauty. Going back to the history of dance, it can be observed that men used to train women. Women would perform the dance. The concept of enjoying dance through a woman's body prevailed then. Moving into the feudal system, dance was subjected to a downfall. Later came the modern period where dance was performed by everyone regardless of which gender they belonged to. A lot of changes happened which includes a change in the name of certain art forms as well as its structures. Mohiniyattam was also subjected to this change. It was no longer considered a dance form used for seduction. These studies led me thinking why Mohiniyattam should be performed dressed as a woman. Based on the changes that I had observed in the structure of Mohiniyattam, I concluded that there is no need for a man to dress up like a woman in order to perform Mohiniyattam. I had conducted my research which is titled as ‘Aattathile Aanvazhikal’ with regard to this topic.
Life itself is an art. Currently, in Kerala, most people learn art forms in capsule form for the sake of competitions. That’s not art. Art has the power to help grow us physically, mentally, and intellectually. Art should be a part of life. Only then, it could be inculcated in its truest form. Even though I might not be earning a lot, my satisfaction is doubled because I am doing what I love. Parents should let their children learn what they want to learn. The mindset of children who love and want to learn art would be different from that of the rest. They might not excel in any other fields. Moreover, they will not be happy. Therefore, parents who wish for the happiness and success of their children should let them do what they love. There are plenty of well-educated artists hailing from Kerala. Education is important. But happiness and satisfaction are what matters more.