An Odyssey of Self-Discovery

Exploring expression through Bharatnatyam and Art Deco

"I recall my mother telling us how they would stay up all night  to experience  Kathakali performances in an open-air theatre organized by the local community." Dressed in a green traditional sari, Priti Warrier, business woman, home maker and accomplished Indian classical dancer elaborates on this memory that she never got to experience. "During those days it was a community ritual to actively participate and refill the oil lamps to keep them lit all night. Theatre back then was considered to be one of the most powerful forms of expression; an amalgamation of various art forms."

 

Eros Theatre, a grand luxury Art Deco cinema, built by Architect Sohrabji Bhedwar was housed in the only non-residential building in the new plot fronting the Oval Maidan. Its foundation was laid in 1935 through the Bombay Backbay Reclamation Scheme. This mixed use building still resonates with the ever-changing fabric of Mumbai. Located above Eros theatre, her office was established by her father in the early 1980's.

 

"I was born and brought up in South Bombay from where I went to the Cathedral School". She explains how her classmates often teased her as the "ta thai tha" girl while her parents firmly resisted her peer pressure driven request to switch to ballet. She started training right from the age of 8 under her Guru K Kalyanasundaram.  By the age of 14 she started performing, which exposed her to various Indian ethos ranging from dance, music, literature, mythology to sculpture. She immersed herself in the rich world of Indian classical dance. Curious to explore deeper meanings, she chose to study literature from Elphinstone College that nurtured her artistic interests.

Figure 1. Priti Warrier at Comtrade Corporate Centre
Figure 2. Priti Warrier in the Nritta pose, a pure dance movement in Bharatnatyam. Source: Personal archive of Priti Warrier

It was her mother who took on the responsibility to recreate the office layout and interiors as an extension of the iconic cinema building with the help of Architect Shimul Jhaveri. "The false ceilings of the air-conditioned cubicles were replaced with glass ceilings and an element of transparency was added to view the lit exposed original truss supporting the sloping roof."

Figure 3. The office waiting area showcasing teakwood furniture and the dynamic wall art painting
Figure 4. Exposed original teakwood truss highlighted by inverted Deco lamps

The office was designed  with custom made furniture inspired by the Art Deco style. Various details seen in the furniture reflects the geometrical banding pattern of the building while the design on the timber doors depicts the composition derived from the Eros ticket booking window. These events subtly initiated Priti into an appreciation of Deco. Even her company logo design is in the same font as Eros.

Figure 5. Ticket window detail at the Eros (Source: Art Deco Mumbai)
Figure 6. Cabin door design recreated from the Eros ticket window detail
Figure 7. Eros Deco font (Source: Art Deco Mumbai)
Figure 8. Art Deco font style observed at Priti’s office
Figure 9. Priti’s company logo designed in brass and teak wood
Figure 10. Furniture banding pattern similar to the banding pattern observed at Eros

The timeless V shaped Art Deco building sits elegantly with its limb spread along the roads almost depicting the Arai Mandi posture that is a basic stance in a Bharatnatyam performance.

 

The aerodynamic streamline reaches out to the sky. The light cream coloured skin of the building is adorned with red Agra sandstone that looks no less than a Bharatnatyam dancer wearing alta (a bright red dye or liquid colour on her hand and feet) which is also seen through the same coloured ornamentation.

Figure 11. Eros building sitting at the junction of Jamshedji Tata Road and Maharshi Karwe Road. (Source: A guide to Mumbai's Art Deco Masterpiece by Fugamundi)
Figure 12. Chennai Bharatnatyam (Source: Leaves from the vine, via Bohemian Sufi)

The demise of her mother in 1998 led to a dichotomous life between managing work and her passion for dance. She gave up on neither and has been actively working with her Guru, recreating traditional works. To this day Priti manages to practice Bharatnatyam regularly.

 

"Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification." - Ayn Rand

 

Priti Warrier’s story of self-discovery has given her a perspective that enables her to embrace the diversity Art Deco and Bharatnatyam have to offer as art forms. She exclaims "It is interesting to note that the 200 BC Classical dance form like Bharatnatyam which originated in the Indian subcontinent and the early 20th century Modern Art Deco Style of Architecture that originated in the West could reflect each other with so many parallels.”

 

Bharatnatyam is driven from Bha, Bhava means expression, Ra comes from Raga, which means melody and Ta comes from Tala, which means rhythm. Similarly, the design language prevalent in Art Deco also expresses illustration, harmony and rhythm. These unique art forms, dance and deco, resemble each other through their stances and geometrical patterns with the use of straight lines, triangles, circles and squares.

Figure 13: Bhava which means expression observed in Bharatnatyam dance form (Source: Gamaka (2007), choreographed and performed by Shantala Shivalingappa and photo by C. P. Satyajit) Figure 14: The theatre mask bas relief expressing comedy at Regal Theatre, an Art Deco Building (Source: Art Deco Mumbai)
Figure 15: Form and composition seen through hand gestures and the frozen fountain an Art Deco element at Court View building seen in figure 16 symbolises eternal life. (Source: Sridevi Nrithyalaya and Art Deco Mumbai)
Raga which means melody is observed in the sound of ghungroos and the highlighted form through different colours and patterns seen in Art Deco buildings. As Deco moved south from Oval Maidan towards Matunga the Deco style was strongly inspired by Indian translations and gained identity as Bombay Deco. The vibrancy in the red colour alta on the feet and the pattern of the ghungroos (Figure.17) is similar to the parapet railing pattern observed in Jitendra building in Matunga (Figure.18). (Source for figure.17: Language of the feet in Bharatnatyam a classical Indian dance by Ram Morrison, via Flickr and Source for figure 18: Art Deco Mumbai)
Tala which means rhythm is observed in the repetition and combination of elements in a series of numbers which is also seen in the Art Deco style highlighting the form through the use of eyebrows (chajja) seen in Shiv Shanti Bhuvan building above. (Figure 19 Source: 100 dancers remember M. S. Subbulakshmi by Hitesh Harisinghani featured on Rediff.com and Figure 20 source: Art Deco Mumbai)

As we look at the stunning view from her corner office and ask Priti if she laments the loss of old buildings to newer high rises, she ponders the question while gazing out of the window, feeling nostalgic. She smiles and says "Most of the buildings that have been a part of my life are still out there, some hidden between hoardings and some partially overshadowed by tall buildings. But they are all still alive!"

Figure 21: View from Priti’s office located above the Eros theatre with the gentrified Churchgate station in the left window against the stunning heritage headquarters of Western Railway in the right window.

The two windows behind her desk, one eastward and the other facing the West, act as a stunning backdrop as she perceptively shows us the gentrified Churchgate station building set in one window against the stunning heritage headquarters of the Western Railway framed in the other window saying – “I have been aesthetically privileged."

 

To surround herself with more history, art and beauty, Priti also chose to move into a gorgeous stand-alone Art Deco building in Cuffe Parade which she calls her home, a place that resonates with her sensibilities and whose aesthetic will always bring her joy!  

 

 

Vanessa Janice Lobo for Art Deco Mumbai.

 

Vanessa is a B. Arch from Rizvi College of Architecture (Mumbai University). She has penned  real life stories of people of Mumbai incorporated in the publication “People called Mumbai". Vanessa has been on the College Council as Publication Head and worked on the college Magazine ’’Zeitgeist”. She strives to capture her experience and observations through writing and photography.

 

References
(i) Bombay: The Cities Within by Rahul Mehrotra and Sharada Dwivedi

(ii) Image of the City by Kevin Lynch

(iii)Natya Shastra

(iv) http://www.stevenholl.com/projects/tesseracts-of-time

(v) https://www.archdaily.com/797079/steven-holl-and-jessica-langs-tesseracts-of-time-explores-the-relationship-between-architecture-and-dance

(vi) http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/sadhguru/spot/bha-ra-tha/

(vii) http://rupkatha.com/the-therapeutic-value-of-indian-classical-folk-and-innovative-dance-forms/
Blog / Uncategorized