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Abbakka, who ruled from the present Dakshina Kannada,
is a legend having inspired generations of artistes in their
The latest by “About What is India” was a multi-media
production, staged on Saturday evening, at the Ravindra
Kalakshetra. Having divided the presentation into a number of
interesting scenes (written by Aravind Sitaraman), it was
successful in depicting the various facets of Abbakka – a
good administrator and warrior who with a tactful diplomacy
kept the Portuguese at bay, with her valour and might.
The dancers portraying different roles were equal to their
task – especially Chitra Arvind (as Rani Abbakka) and Mysore
B Nagaraj’s names must be mentioned here.
Beautiful photographs and video (Soumya Aravind Sitaraman and
Usha Kris) and melodious, purposeful music (Jayanthi and
Kumaresh) and meaningful words – made the production an
DANCE The opera based on Rani Abbakka's life was
For someone who is regarded as India's first
freedom-fighter against colonialism, it is ironical that
Abbakka Rani is better known in the historical literature
of Western Europe than in her own country. There has been
very little said or written here about this intrepid queen
of 16 th-century Tulunadu, who was an able administrator,
expert in warfare, feminist, and great patriot who fought
against and sank the dreaded Portuguese Armada.
Fortunately, an enterprising team of artistes and
art-patrons are beginning to change all that.
Aravind Sitaraman and Usha Venkateswaran and their team
have created an opera Abbakka Rani, the Queen of Spices.
This superb multimedia production by What is India,
premiered last week and was a successful attempt to make
known Abbakka's achievements and her contribution to
keeping India independent of foreign rule.
Scriptwriter and producer Aravind is founder of
whatisindia.com and a person with an abiding pride and
interest in Indian history and culture. “We believe there
is a need to spread awareness about the great Indian
heritage especially among the youth.” Hence, they chose
Abbakka Rani, who is an unsung queen and richly deserving
of a tribute.
The talented and much-respected Usha Venkateswaran, who
has a long experience as dancer, teacher and
choreographer, directed and choreographed this absorbing
show. The opera which lasted around 80 minutes was a fluid
and gripping narrative in multimedia of Abbakka's life.
Commencing with an introduction in English by Soumya
Aravind Sitaraman, there was a Sutradhar who spoke
he scenes unfolded to take us through the life of Abbakka,
the magnitude of her achivements, and the times she lived
in. Groomed by her maternal uncle Tirumala Nayaka, she
became queen of Tulunadu with Moodabidri as her base and
Ullal port as financial capital.
A competent administrator also trained in warfare she kept
the invading Portuguese at bay for over four decades often
using ingenious methods. She even sank their Armada which
was considered near-invincible by the rest of the world in
those days. However, she was finally undone by the
treachery of her estranged husband who had allied with the
Though Bharatanatyam was the chief vehicle of expression,
Usha also made intelligent and creative use of elements
from Kathak, Kalaripayattu, and Rajasthani folk dance and
even a dash of flamenco-inspired style, to suit the
character and the occasion. The fight scenes stood out —
they were intense, quick-paced, and fluid. An imaginative
use of background graphics and video created by Soumya
Aravind Sitaraman, and good music contributed to making
the production vivid and interesting.
The slender and graceful Chitra Arvind was impressive as
Abbakka. With deft, precise movements and an expressive
abhinaya which was never overdone despite the kind of
strong emotions she was required to convey, Chitra brought
Abbakka's character to life. Mysore B. Nagaraj played
Lakshmanappa competently while Deepa Shivananda was
convincing as Seeta (Abbakka's sister-in-law). Rupesh K.C.
and Ujval played well the scheming Portuguese and Shekhar
Rajendran was an effective Sutradhar.
However, the initial background visuals (stills) could
have done with captions (to make them more meaningful for
viewers) and Abbakka's costumes could have been more
eye-catching considering she was the protagonist and
always occupying centre-stage (the dress was particularly
dull in a middle-of-the-drama scene).
The original music score of the production is by Jayanthi
and Kumaresh, while Usha Kris is credited with the
photography. The other dancers were Nagaraj, Nishant
Aravindakshan, Prasanna Kumar, Pawan Kumar, Rajesh, Vishwa,
Aparna Shastry, Aarti Mohan, and Josephine Savita.
Lighting was done by Preetam Kumar.
Queen of Spices Cast
from the Abbakka Rani Bangalore show
Bangalore Show: November 13, 2010 at 0645pm
Bangalore Venue: Ravindra Kalakshetra
Posted On Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 08:03:34 AM
When the production team of the opera Abbakka Rani, The Queen
of Spices, reached Ullal to research on the 16th-century leader,
they knew they were on the right track, especially the choice of
“There’s a statue of her astride a horse
that’s been erected there. The plaque reads ‘India’s first
freedom fighter’ and nobody even knows of it,” says Soumya
Aravind Sitaraman, co-producer of the opera. “There is so much
of Indian history and heritage to feel proud about and yet, we
are either berating our own country or looking outside for
inspiration. Imagine this woman, a Kannadiga, commandeered her
incipient navy to destroy a dreaded Portuguese Armada,” she
says, adding that’s why What is India chose Abbakka Rani as
the theme of their dance drama.
“Choreographer Usha Venkateswaran has used multiple classical
dances to bring out the story.
The inherent drama in Abbakka Rani’s story meant that the
18-member dance troupe had to take lessons in the Kerala martial
arts form from exponent Dil Sagar and also learn how to wield
swords and shields during the two-month preparation time.
“The more we learn of the greatness among us, the faster we
will rid ourselves of the coolie-complex we are riddled with,”
says author Soumya who, with her husband, runs online and
offline activities through What is India, to encourage
Abbakka, who ruled from Moodabidri,
developed a strong armed and naval force and kept the Portuguese
at bay for four decades. But she was let down by her husband,
the king of Mangalore, who plotted against her, leading to her
death and that of her twin daughters.
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