DIRECTOR' STATEMENT: This documentary is intended to shed some light on the Asian Indian community, important aspects of Indian culture, and one of the major art forms that has come out of the Indian subcontinent: the classical dance and music form known as bharatanatyam. Over three million people of Asian Indian descent live in the United States, but most people outside of the community are woefully ignorant of their culture, history, and values.
The film relies on heavily on the performers of Kalanjali: Dances of India and their artistic directors, Kalakshetra K.P. Kunhiraman and Katherine Kunhiraman. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them.
Director's Bio: A filmmaker since 2004, Ma is essentially self-taught. Her work has screened and been in festivals in seven countries on three continents. She produces and directs in both English and Spanish, and in certain respects considers herself an international version of Les Blank. Her passions are music, dance, and cross-cultural understanding; and she tries to combine each of these elements in her work, whether documentary, narrative, or experimental. Her earlier careers (history professor, lawyer, and non-profit administrator) also have a significant effect on her filmmaking.
Born in the southern Indian state of Kerala in 1930,K.P. Kunhiraman was son of a famous kathakali actor who convinced the prestigious Kalakshetra Institute to take him on while still a teenager and train him in kathakali and bharatanatyam. Kunhiraman subsequently became a teacher at the institute where for 20 years he performed to great acclaim, and also taught, under his formal name,Kalakshetra K.P. Kunhiraman.
After marrying Katherine Siebel, in 1975, he moved with her to California where they founded Kalanjali: Dances of India in the San Francisco Bay Area. There, K.P. Kunhiraman taught for another 30 years, and with Katherine, trained literally hundreds of students, mostly the popular, classical bharatanatyam. In 2013, he retired to India where in 2014, he passed away.
A native of the United States, Katherine Kunhiraman moved to India with her family while still a teenager. She saw her first bharatanatyam performance while living in Chennai (formerly Madras), fell in love with the art form, and soon began taking classes in the Kalakshetra Institute where she majored in bharatanatyam and minored in kathakali. After toying with the idea of becoming an Egyptologist, she decided to devote her life to Indian dance. Her decision was sealed when married her dance teacher,Kalakshetra K.P. Kunhiraman.
In 1975, after she and Kunhiramanhad married and had a child, they moved to California. Their academy,Kalanjali: Dances of India,was one of the first, and certainly the most prestigious institution to teach Indian dance to an American audience. Even after the retirement and subsequent death of K.P. Kunhiraman, Katherine continues to teach and operate the academy.
Richard R. Lee is best known for his long-running on-line interview show, Sidewalks Entertainment, a celebrity and music TV series he started back in 1988. The series is broadcast over various cable stations from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, and many cities in between. Lee acts as producer and co-host - and also is the series' creator.
In addition, he has worked as programmer and in technical aspects of several television stations in the greater San Francisco Bay Area including KTVU, KRCB and KFCB. He is currently senior production member and on-air programmer for KCRT-TV, the cable station of the City of Richmond, California.
K.P. Yeshoda is the director of Bharatakalanjali, the Chennai (India) branch of Kalanjali. Niece of Kalakshetra K.P. Kunhiraman, like her uncle she received her training at the Kalakshetra Institute, and first performed as a soloist after only four years of training. She currently teaches and performs all over the world
N. Sasidaran (Sasidharan) was born and continues to live in Chennai in southern India. His mother, who he considers his first teacher, was a professional singer. Subsequently, he studied with other gurus and then devoted himself to solo singing, but he married a bharatanatyamdancer which influenced him to change course and sing for dance. Like K.P. Yeshoda, he currently teaches and sings at the institute, Bharatakalanjali, and performs all over the world.