Pursuit of Happiness

Dancing stories

Axis Communications’ Sudhindra Holla is a champion of stage performances and loves to dance his worries away

‘Creating a smarter world’ seems to be a constant theme in Sudhindra Holla’s life. On one hand, it is the core fundamental at Axis Communications, where he is the India and SAARC director; and on the other, Holla has been pursuing the art of Yakshagana for decades, a folk dance form that arose as a means to educate common people about mythology and culture.

“I was introduced to the art while I was visiting my native place during summer holidays with my mother,” he recalls while adding that he isn’t the first one to take on the Karnatakan form of elaborate storytelling and entertainment. It’s been a part of the family tradition for generations. “My maternal uncle and grandparents too had been performers. They encouraged me to take it up,” Holla adds. Thus began a city-dwelling 12-year-old’s six-month long training in basic steps and mudras.

Within a few months, he won his first stage performance, which, according to Holla, turned out to be embarrassing, and not because he was playing a female character. “The play was called Bheeshma Vijaya and I had a single dialogue, ‘I agree to marry’,” he narrates. But he was a newbie and the background musicians didn’t trust Holla to deliver the line at the appropriate time, successfully. “Although I managed to say my line, they started beating the drums loudly at the same time. I felt really bad about that,” he laughs. Today, Holla has performed in 1,500 shows across the country, playing everything from the protagonist, the villain or even the narrator.

Even with his hectic work schedule, he manages to practise and perform once or twice a month, during weekends. “Earlier, I used to be part of 20-25 performances a year, but it has fallen to 12-15,” Holla says. Since these dances do not have heavy dialogues and artists are not expected to learn lines verbatim, he prepares his scripts in the green room with fellow artists, a few hours before the performances. But, many a time, characters are re-assigned a few hours before going on stage. Hence, each dancer needs to know his mythologies and scriptures well.

The costume can weigh anywhere between 15 and 20 kilos, including the headgear; and the artists do their own make-up. “The professionals believe getting the make-up right is also an art. It’s only through experience that they perfect it,” he shares, and adds that even the eyes of each character differ from the next. “It takes around one and a half hour to complete the look,” adds Holla.

His most memorable performance was when he played Ravana, pitted against Ram, a scene that depicted the final war between the two Gods. “It was almost six years ago in Malleshwaram near Bengaluru. I had moments on the stage when it felt like I was in a state of trance,” he recounts as he adds that Yakshagana brings him a spiritual high. Over the years, it has not only helped him build confidence and presentation skills, but also to handle criticism and crisis. “These performances are usually tiring because of the heavy costumes and steps. But after that particular act, I was left energised,” signs off Holla.