Full-Length Bhavantarana is Now Up!

Monday, June 4, 2012
I would like to thank La_Surrealiste for posting in the comments today that the film/documentary Bhavantarana on the late Odissi Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra is now posted full length on YouTube--and it's fresh, only two days old!  The Indian Diplomacy folks who had previously posted the short snippet (see my post here) must have had a change of heart and decided to give all of us eager dance enthusiasts reason to rejoice! The one hour-plus Bhavantarana is up on YouTube!

The film/documentary is shot in a soft light with lengthy periods of silence and the sounds of nature contributing to a relaxing and contemplative atmosphere.  Among all the sequences of Kelucharan performing solo, there are three solo female performances, what appear to be reenactments of Kelu's earlier life experiences, and many camera pans that linger on the natural environment.  Quotes from various ancient texts liberally appear to give the performances context and meaning.

I feel this very artistic film went quite "over my head" in the sense that I don't have the background or language understanding to comprehend everything being presented, especially the textual quotes and mythology and their relation to the dances.  I sensed that the film is trying to make a point beyond simply presenting Kelucharan, pieces of his life story, and his dance.  There is quite a lot going on, despite the lingering pace.  This site (archived here) gives the following interpretation:
"The film begins with Shahani’s historical-materialist claim to the origins of all sculpture in performance: it has a stone sculptor chiseling a human form from a piece of stone. The human form is effectively linked to legendary Odissi dancer (and Mahapatra’s student) Sanjukta Panigrahi. Described by the director as a film ‘about hunger’, it returns the dance to both the labour that it celebrates and the improvisations that continue to defy codification and control. Many of the dances, including the spectacular Navarasa (the nine ‘rasas’ that form the sum total of Indian aesthetic experience) sequence at the end, were choreographed specially for the cinema."
While I don't have any intellectual analysis to add about the film, I can say that I found many of the dances captivating, particularly those in the last 30 minutes, and I ended the viewing feeling like I had watched something mysterious and magical.  While it took me a while to get warmed up to Kelu's dances, the longer I watched the more I was intrigued.  Kelucharan's "gambling" enactment at 23:37 was delightful and creative.  But it was the "nine rasas" performance, taking up the entire end of the film starting at 46:42, that had me spellbound.  The portion starting around 50:00, where he is front-lit against the dark background, brought tears to my eyes by the end.  Such emotive expression of the human body!  Kelu feels it so deeply that I, the viewer, felt it too.  What followed it was so interesting - almost an Odissi tandava perhaps, to my eyes and ears. 

Music in Odissi dance has always struck me as being so gentle, welcoming, and peaceful, its notes always positive and uplifting. The song starting at 42:42 exemplified this for me- simply gorgeous. 

I was hoping the little girl who dances near the beginning would be identified, but it wasn't clear if she was.  The credits identify the dancers as Sanjukta Panigrahi, Moushami Sahoo, Sidheshwar, and Kumkum Mohanty.  Clearly Sanjukta was at the beginning, Sidheshwar was the gotipua dancer, and KumKum was the student being corrected by Kelucharan... but was Moushami Sahoo the little girl?  Is "Battu" a style of dance, or her character's name?  Searching on that name came up with nothing, which makes me very curious!

I'm so happy that this film is finally out there for the world to see!  What will be next. I would love to hear folks' interpretations about the documentary - do comment!


  1. This is awesome! The film is even better than I Imagined. the biggest thing kumar shahni does for the dance form is that as a filmmaker he GETS OUT OF THE WAY of the dancer in "interpreting" the dance form (odissi) or the piece.

    Also notice how the stage is never elevated or removed from the eye,thus (in my mind) bringing this very elitist temple dance form to the level of the viewer's eye, and somehow making it more relatable....the performance is no longer of a God's performed for the benefit of us mere mortals, we are instead sucked in and at some level become part of the dance of guru kelu.

    As personal preference I'd rather see this seventy year old's dance than the other(bala) , if I had to choose :)

  2. Battu is a foundational dance in Odissi repertoire.

  3. rameshram - excellent point regarding the director's getting out of the way- I hadn't been able to put my finger on that specifically. I loved how the camera slowly pans in front of the dancers, often floating beyond the focal point and off into nature. The entire thing was quite different from most other dance docs I've seen in that there wasn't any hectic, flashy editing. It's all so serene and gentle. That's a very interesting point about the stage - the performances were indeed so natural. No props and sets and fancy stages - just the dancer and his/her surroundings. Respectful, indeed. Regarding your last point - Aesthetics-wise, I would definitely agree!

    kiran chikkala - agreed.

    MSH - Thank you for the information! Very helpful.


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