Dancer, theatre producer and curator from Australia, Ghirija Jayarraj on bringing her vision to Chennai through her venture, Shastram. She was all of four years old when she took to Bharatanatyam — resulting in over three decades of spreading awareness on Indian classical dance across the world. Having lived and performed in Australia and London, the eclectic Ghirija Jayarraj is finally back to her roots in India with her brainchild, Shastram — a venture to trace the journey of dance as a form of identity among the Indian diaspora.
Her maiden production in India, Something to Say, is a fusion between stage and screen; discussing social issues, culture and tradition with performances, painting and photo exhibits; all with a focus on classical dance in the modern age.
“I quit my job as a risk analyst for an MNC in Australia, to delve into my passion full-time, and present my ideologies in Chennai. Having lived overseas, I was intrigued by how far this art form had travelled globally, and began documenting its journey. Incidentally, I’m a filmmaker as well. So it was only a matter of time before I combined the mediums of film and dance!” begins Ghirija.
Being a migrant herself, she says it was fascinating how dance was used by Indians to give a definition and identity to themselves abroad. “That’s how Shastram happened. I utilised Rajsha, my film production company in Melbourne, to collect material for a YouTube channel, which has viewers even in Mexico! After having an Internet presence for so long, I wanted to give life to the idea with new and experienced talent in Chennai.”
And true to her word — after reaching out to them on social media and also meeting them during the making of Shastram’s trailer, a bevy of artists are associated with Ghirija’s cause, such as performers Prateeksha Kashi, Shruthi KP, Shwetha Krishna and Christopher Guruswamy as well as director/ cinematographer Pradeep Kalipurayath and Australian painter Subashini Slater.
“I want to use dance, film and theatre together to tell stories. Isn’t it amazing how classical dance is thousands of years old, but still has enough permutations and combinations to be current and relevant today? But it needs to keep evolving, experimenting and interacting with other art forms to stop stagnating. For instance, there’s a Bharatanatyam act set to hip-hop beats during the show! I want to showcase these to the public, understand their views and then take it to the western community,” Ghirija muses.
She signs off stating that the biggest difference between art in India and overseas was that people recognise its value. “Everyone thinks it’s available in abundance here — and it is! But if not preserved, it will become extinct one day. Just compare the legendary monuments in Rome in their pristine condition with historical temples in India, which are in dismal condition. Of course, a small community tries their best to safeguard it, but here’s hoping the next generation takes it upon themselves too.”