Summary: ‘Nattuva Thilagam’ Indira Manikam and her sister Kamalaa Ramachandran belongs to a traditional family of Carnatic musicians and vocalists. She was born in Kuala Lumpur on 12 July 1951 to her father Govindaraju and mother Amaravathi.
At a very young age, the sisters were sent away to learn and master Barathanatyam, Carnatic music and Nattuvangam at the Pichaiya Pillai Bharatha Natya Vidyalaya in Tanjavur, South India, under the guidance of their guru, Srimathi Duraiammal. Their guru belonged to the lineage of the famed Tanjore Quartette, connoisseurs of the Tanjore style of Barathanatyam, known for its fluid and graceful footwork and facial expressions.
Upon graduating, the sisters returned to Malaysia and established Tanjai Kamala Indira Dance School (TKI), one of Malaysia’s longest-running dance academies, in 1966. The formative years of TKI weren’t easy; they hardened Indira in many ways. She met with the harsh realities of life, more glaringly the undesirable perception towards the divine classical dance form that she worships.
Indira Manikam has mastered Bharatanatyam and has dedicated her entire life to teaching the oldest classical dance tradition that originated almost 3,000 years ago in Tamil Nadu, India. In the ancient years, the spiritual dance Bharatanatyam was performed for deities within the sacred walls of the temples. But, when the British rulers annexed the Tanjore crown in 1856, the cultural patronage in Thanjavur officially collapsed. The Christian missionaries and British officials launched the anti-dance movement in 1892 and dishonoured the practice, ending the livelihood of the dance practitioners and performers. Many Devadasis took to prostitution, and Bharatanatyam fell into disrepute. Instead of protecting, some temple institutions even started exploiting the dancers.
However, in the early 20th century, renowned revivalists joined hands to reclaim the classical art form and gave it the lifeline that it has today. Like her forebears, dancer, and teacher, Indira Manikam has vowed to dance through the barriers, break the stereotype, dismantle old beliefs, and eventually elevate the classical dance’s stature among the traditional and new generation Malaysian Indian diaspora.
TEACHER, The Tradition Bearer intimately documents Bharatanatyam pioneer Indira Manikam’s role as a tradition bearer, one who kept this sacred dance form alive, vibrant and relevant, in all its splendid weightiness and dramatic vocabulary, for the past 55 years in Malaysia.
Through the lens of the legendary dance teacher, this documentary captures her journey, explores the power of art, and womanhood through various shades and vignettes that represent dance as she reflects on how she came to be the tradition bearer she is.
Producer: Maran Perianen
Director/Editor: Indrani Kopal
Director of Photography: Senthilkumaran Muniandy & Navin Perianen
Sound Design & Mixing: Jeson Gnanapnegasam & Soundniverse Studio
Music: Tanjai Kamalaa Indira Dance School’s Orchestra
Running Time: 58-minute