“Veenapani Chawla would have wanted us to get on with our lives,” says Vinaykumar KJ, “But it hasn’t been easy. When she passed away in 2014, the loss was enormous.” Chawla had founded the multi-disciplinary performance company, Adishakti, in 1981. For decades, she was the institution’s guru, leading adherents through a methodology that would allow them to explore the “anatomy of emotion”, as Vinaykumar, an actor with Adishakti, describes it. It involved learning breathing techniques to stimulate and control the emotion you wanted to exhibit, while learning about how the particular emotion connected with the rest of your body. Adishakti also has a research centre that allows enthusiasts to test the methodology’s findings.
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This year, for the third time, Adishakti is conducting Remembering Veenapani, a month-long weekend festival, in honour of their guru. Thirteen shows, many of whose performers were in some way or another associated with Chawla, will be staging plays, dances, and concerts from till February 26. The festival, which began yesterday, is being held at Adishakti’s campus in Pondicherry and features shows such as Indian Steam, a touring performance inspired by life on trains, Akshayambara, by Dramanon, an experimental Kannada drama, and a music ensemble Sage for the Ages, a new-age band from India and Bangladesh. Supported by a crowdfunding campaign, the performances will remain non-ticketed.
Economic sustainability was one of the biggest issues Adishakti faced after Chawla’s death. “We had to really figure out how we could generate income without comprising on our philosophy,” says Vinaykumar. “We had to evolve and work harder than we’d ever done.” They courted sponsors and encouraged crowdfunding. Now, Adishakti has the highest number of participants than it ever did before.
Part of the reason Adishakti has stayed intact is that Chawla, before she passed away, trained the artists she was working with to manage administrative tasks. “Unlike most other organizations that experience this kind of loss, we didn’t become directionless. Veenapani had seen this happen during her lifetime and made sure Adishakti wouldn’t go through the same thing,” says Vinaykumar. “Artistically speaking, we are still following her guidance, and that’s what has allowed us go on. Though the Remembering Veenapani festival provides us a space where we can all remember her, the only way we can keep her methodology relevant is to sustain her vision and share it with as many people as possible.”