Danseuse Savitha Sastry and Director AK Srikanth release their 8th production Arangetram (The Debut). The release of this film is the third this year; a year that marks the tenth anniversary of Savitha and Srikanth’s production company, that had made acclaimed films such as Descent, Beyond the Rains, Dvija and The Colors Trilogy.
A still from Arangetram
This short film is a throwback to the cinema of breezy comedies by stalwarts such as Amol Palekar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee. Usually known for their intense denouements, this time Savitha and Srikanth have embarked on a genre that has never been attempted by them before. Through this, they wanted to create a film that can be watched and enjoyed by an extended family together – much as we enjoyed classics such as Chupke Chupke, Angoor or Golmaal.
Arangetram also stars several cine and television artists from Kollywood, including Kausalya Natarajan and Zeeba Ashrin who play important supporting casts. The film, based in the milieu of a typical apartment-dwelling middle class family, focuses on how age should never be a bar to go after one’s dreams. While the film centers around the character played by Savitha, every supporting actor also has quirks and eccentricities that makes the whole characterization believable, and yet joyous.
‘The Dancing Storyteller’ and ‘Renaissance Architect of Bharatanatyam’, are some of the affectionate epithets that have been given to Savitha Sastry by the critics and the audiences at large.
Savitha Sastry has been recognized in the world of Bharatanatyam for her technical prowess for over the three decades she has been performing. Through the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, she mostly performed traditional repertoires, but did take steps towards full length thematic productions through her work such as ‘Purushartha’ and ‘Krishna – the Supreme Mystic’. It was in the second half of the 2000s that she embarked on projects that showcased novel stories rather than stories taken from mythology or religion as is common in classical Indian arts.
Her first production ‘Music Within’ which released in 2010, took the arts world by a quiet storm. Based on the history of music as narrated by a deaf and dumb child, the production went on to play across the globe and was much appreciated for its finesse, subtility and entertainment values. Savitha’s foray in this direction stemmed from the fact that she wanted to take Bharatanatyam to an audience that was neither conversant nor interested in the art form.
In the 2010s, Savitha and her husband AK Srikanth jointly created some of the most memorable works from her production company. Written and directed by Srikanth, and choreographed by Savitha, these productions including ‘Soul Cages’ (2012), ‘Yudh’ (2013), ‘The Prophet’ (2013) and ‘Chains: Love Stories of Shadows’ (2015) played over 100 shows in very prestigious venues across the Indian Subcontinent, the United States, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa and South East Asia. Her work got the attention of critics even to prompt them to declare that Savitha is as much ‘the renaissance architect of Bharatanatyam as Rukmini Devi Arundale was in her times’.
In the late 2010s, Savitha and Srikanth turned their eyes on the burgeoning digital media, and decided that if the aim was to evangelize Bharatanatyam to the uninitiated, then the power of digital could not be ignored. Between 2018 and 2019, her productions that had been made for stage were now recreated as dance films.
But her first original work for the digital media came about in 2019, when she performed in the short dance film ‘The Descent’. Based on a script by Srikanth, this production showcased the free fall of a superstar, and showcased the emotions of a depressed woman in this part of her life. ‘The Descent’ went on to win the best short film awards in the very prestigious Near Nazareth Festival, the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival, Best Global Shorts and the Top Shorts Film Festival, besides being nominated in 11 other film festivals.
Savitha and Srikanth have gone on to make other short films as well including ‘Awakening’ and ‘Aparajita’ – the latter being created during the lockdown. Their latest project is the trilogy titled the Colors – a series based on the colors of the Indian flag, and a comparison of the women of today held against the ideals that the founding fathers of India had when they selected these colors on our flag. The first of the trilogy, Colors: Green was released to critical acclaim in 2020, followed by Colors: White and Colors: Saffron in 2021. Beyond the Rains, their much acclaimed short based on a love story was released earlier in 2022. 2022 also saw the release of Dvija, their philosophical magnum opus. Their latest production Arangetram is scheduled for release on Sep 2nd, 2022.
Savitha is also extremely involved with a group she has created for dancers titled the Inner Circle – where she posts videos on choreography, productions and physical fitness for dancers. Her Gurukula, an in-residence immersive learning program, is open to a select few Bharatanatyam dancers.