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29.03.2018

Some Saturdays ago, against the backdrop of clear chikankari curtains and a smoulder of spotlights, Ashwini Raghupathy dazzled us with an Odissi recital. While prowess was never in doubt, her translation of this dance style into a restrictive space was superlative. Leaning against the many others who had trekked a long way to this three-bedroom apartment tucked away in a canopied corner of Malleswaram, we experienced this intensely intimate, raw treat that left most of us silenced and teary-eyed.

“It is the breaking down of the distance between the spectator and spectacle that’s truly overwhelming and the real draw of these performances”, says Gurupriya Atreya over an ice-cold glass of lemon-ginger cordial at the same apartment, which looks quite different on this morning. “Kutcheris were simply an informal gathering of people to witness the arts but over time, it has become singularly associated with Carnatic recitals,” Gurupriya explains.

She’s working towards changing that common misconception by moving out all the furniture in her drawing room – a suite of stunning art deco pieces inherited from her husband’s great-grandfather – and inviting artists from the city to come in and perform in these stripped-down digs. Her banner: the Living Room Kutcheri.

Note In My Name

It would seem that Gurupriya has been in training to host these kinds of intimate performance evenings her entire life. Her mother, Dr Padmavathi Srinivasen, was a gynaecologist also considered “the neighbourhood’s family doctor”; she was also in All India Radio’s venerable stable of city vocalists. Her father, Srinivasen, was a music composer. “My parents were never publicly-feted figures but were known for hosting a popular concert series during the festivals of Navratri and Shivaratri that would take place in our home,” Gurupriya says. In order to commemorate the passing of her mother, Gurupriya decided to kick off her own series of these recitals.

Beside being a Hindustani vocalist, her past work as a playback singer and radio jockey has really helped her find artists interested in taking the stage. “Most of them are eager for this format, it allows them to experiment without being harshly judged or being called out,” she offers as reasoning. Preethi Bharadwaj, a Bharatanatyam dancer, recently got the audience involved by having them keep the new counting system that she was trying out. “At some point, we (the audience) did mess up but didn’t trip up the artist,” she assures us.

Gurupriya’s loyal audience has even decided to take on responsibility for future evenings. “There’s a bunch of people that come early and help prepare the tea; another Sri Lankan guest brings pastries, then audience members like Archana Pidathala (author of the now-famous Five Morsels of Love) bring along munchies like chocolate mango mousse.” It’s not quite dinner and a show, “but an assortment of cookies and a cup of ginger tea will always be there,” she says. There’s also a bunch that will now stay back and help her put the deco back in place.

We left Ashwini’s Odissi recital with the feeling of having had the opportunity to watch the muscle-ripple of Usain Bolt in slow-motion, but for a longer time, with ginger tea in hand. It was so invigorating we think we’ll sign up to shift some furniture next time ourselves.

Get on the mailing list by writing to livingroomkutcheri@gmail.com for future events. The next kutcheri features Kalakshetra-trained Sukriti Tirupattur in a bharatanatyam recital on April 24.

This was story was contributed by Joshua Muyiwa, a Bangalore-based poet and writer.

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