Mallika Sarabhai wears many hats – she is one of the greatest exponents of Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, is a writer, an accomplished actor, an activist, a politician, and a social entrepreneur. Prior to her performance in the city at NCPA, we speak to the danseuse about her upbringing, her dance school, Darpana, and more.
Tell us about your new production, in which you will pay a tribute to your mother, Mrinalini Sarabhai.
In the show, dance critic Sunil Kothari will talk about how Amma was the first classical Indian dancer to use socially relevant themes like violence against women and dowry deaths in her acts. My brother, Karthikeya, will talk about how she used dance to raise awareness about the environment. Tom Alter (actor) will talk about working with her well into her 90s. And, my son, Revanta, and I are going to perform some of her favourite pieces.
What is the most important aspect of your mother’s legacy? What kind of a relationship did you share with her?
Amma’s legacy was that she took classical styles and contemporised them. I loved to be at her rehearsals. I felt part of her troupe, and was spoiled by her dancers. Over the years, we became partners, creating and dancing together.
Your mother was an award-winning classical Indian dancer while your father, Vikram Sarabhai, is considered the father of India’s space program. What was it like growing up with such well-known parents?
People constantly asked, “Did you feel pressurized to be as good as your parents?” The answer is no. All the years I have danced with Amma, I never felt competitive. We were a part of each other.
What are the challenges that you face while running Darpana?
The biggest challenge is funding. If you want to do experimental work, or make a difference in society, funding is difficult to get by. Everybody wants either Bollywood, or they want to make you feel that they are doing you a favour [by funding you]. I am not sitting and hoping to get grants from the government, or from one of the ministries. When I got out of IIM, I had thought that I will never do finance again. Unfortunately, with the kind of arts environment there is, I have to spend 80% of my time doing finances.
You don several hats - writer, dancer, activist and politician. Which one is dearer to you?
Why do I have to choose? None of them come first. All of the things I do happen because they make me [who I am]. Luckily, I have been in a position, where I have primarily worked with people who care about all of those. One of my grouses while working with Peter Brooke (theatre director) was that he stopped my dancing. I need to be doing different things, to be good at everything. All my hobbies happen to be my careers.
You have done many films in the past. Do you still get offers to work in movies?
I am getting back into films. We will soon produce our first feature film called Kadak Badshaahi. It is inspired by my play of the same name, which showcased the culture and history of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and was created to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the city. As for me, I would love to do interesting roles, but people have given up asking me to be part of their films. All the roles I got were so silly that I didn’t want to do them.