Indulge turns 15: Destination Chennai —what makes artistes move to our city? We find out from ten diverse performers:
Artistes have been flocking to Chennai forever and the city has always patronized careers firmly rooted in the arts. We catch up with 10 diverse performers who moved to the city to explore their art:
Chennai has always drawn people to its shores. In the medieval ages, Chennai was a port that drew people from all corners of the world for trade in cloth and spices. As time moved on, the port at the mouth of the Koovam also became the centre of power for the British East India Company, bringing people who mastered all kinds of trades to its doors. India won her independence, and the focus here shifted to automobiles, films, the performing arts and medicine and the city drew in artistes, doctors and engineers by the hordes. Fast forward to 2022 and the scene remains the same. The megapolis is still proudly a destination for industry, commerce, education, entertainment, dance, music and theatre. The faces of the city have changed over time, but one thing hasn’t — Chennai’s ability to provide home and hearth to the curious, talented and ambitious! We pay tribute to our home city’s continuous ability to inspire and motivate artistes by talking to musicians, theatre artistes and dancers from outside Chennai to find out why they now call the city ‘home’ — quite proudly.
Nakul Abhyankar, singer and musician, 32
Originally from Dharmasthala in Karnataka, Nakul moved to Chennai to study music at KM Music Conservatory. His talent for playback singing was discovered and honed and in no time, he was recording songs for AR Rahman. In due time, he was noticed for his music production skills too. Nakul decided to move permanently to Chennai in 2017 and there has been no turning back since. “I knew this would be the place for me to build my career. This was where all the contacts I needed and worked with, also lived and worked at, and so the decision was pretty clear,” says Nakul whose most recent hits were Thumbi Thullal from Cobra (2022) and Chola Chola from Ponniyin Selvan 1 (2022). Nakul was also the music supervisor for Ponniyin Selvan and mixed the hit Hindi song Param Sundari from Mimi (2021), recently; and also directed the music for recent Kannada movie, Love Mocktail 2.
Preethi Bharadwaj, danseuse and theatre artiste, 32
Quite popular in her home city of Bengaluru as a dancer, Preethi was known as a danseuse with a flair for experimental productions. When she moved to Chennai in 2019, the assumption was that she would continue to further her interests in dance. Something else happened, altogether. “I used to dabble in theatre in Bengaluru too, but my move to Chennai reintroduced me in many ways to my love for theatre and I ended up doing more plays than dance performances in the city. The city has given me space to explore the theatrical side of me and I am very thankful for it,” says Preethi who recently performed a solo piece titled Me and My Trash in the city, which received rave reviews.
Bhavajan Kumar, dancer and performance artiste, 30
Growing up in Toronto led Bhavajan to crave for a thriving dance community, something that he discovered when he moved to Chennai to learn dance. A classical dancer by profession and passion, Bhavajan is a disciple of Leela Samson and has been shuttling between Toronto and Chennai since 2010. “Chennai is slowly becoming more of my home now and I am spending lesser time in Toronto. The arts scene here is thriving and I get the chance to be among contemporaries who share and celebrate my passion for bharatanatyam. It’s a great place for anyone who is interested in the classical arts of South India and is sure to introduce you to many people who will share similar interests. Also, the city gives you easy access to some of the stalwarts in the field and that always helps you as a student,” says Bhavajan who will be performing next at Music Academy Madras on January 9, 2023.
Shruthi KP, danseuse and teacher, 39
Malayali by ancestry but born and brought up in Bengaluru, danseuse Shruthi KP found herself missing the ‘openness’ of Bengaluru when she moved to Chennai in 2021. But this discomfort was soon ironed out when the city accepted her as a local and she came to be known as a Chennai artiste. “There is a global recognition for artistes from Chennai and it works even when students are searching for gurus. While the traditional structured art spaces in Chennai first felt unwelcoming when I moved here, as time passed, the structure and availability of a ready community and spaces is what won me over. I am now known as a Chennai artiste and it works in my favour as that tag comes with global recognition even for a mohiniattam artiste not based in Kerala,” shares Shruthi who continues to teach students from all over the world, online.
Mrittika Chatterjee, theatre artiste, 24
A Chennaiite by birth, Mrittika moved to Bengaluru to pursue theatre professionally. She worked with several theatre troupes in Bengaluru, before she moved back to Chennai fearing the worst. “I assumed the worst about the city’s theatre scene, because most people don’t talk about Chennai when it comes to theatre. I was told that the city’s theatre scene is ‘artistically incestuous’ and so I was pretty wary. ‘Everyone’s working with everyone else and is constantly patting each other’s backs.’ I was also told that only friends of actors come to watch their plays and so, you can imagine the picture I had painted for myself. I have, however, discovered a dedicated theatre audience in the city and troupes that take the art form very seriously. Unlike Mumbai or Kolkata, you needn’t break-in to the scene through anyone, you can just do it yourself,” explains Mrittika who moved back to the city in 2019.
Sushmitha Suresh, danseuse, 29
Sushmitha had already experienced Chennai’s prolific dance scene when she was in Bengaluru, her home city. So, when she moved here after her wedding in 2019, it wasn’t exactly unfamiliar territory. “I had already worked the Chennai scene when I was in Bengaluru and so the transition was pretty easy. The experience in this city has, so far, been absolutely enriching. Chennai was so perfect because of the amount of opportunities for me as dancer and the fact that there’s so much for me to take in and learn — so many quality performances, workshops, classes, festivals. This is a classical dance paradise. The city has a place for everyone,” says Sushmitha who will be performing in Chennai through the upcoming Margazhi season.
Madhura Dhara Talluri, singer, 24
Moving to Chennai from Delhi is a big deal. The two cities in many ways are diametrically opposite to each other, but Madhura moved to study music in Kalakshetra. Life took her to Berklee College of Music in Boston and she met AR Rahman there. She then began working with the maestro and then decided to stay on because she made all her musical contacts here in Chennai. “After I completed my course, I worked here for a bit, before heading back to Delhi during the COVID-19 lockdowns, but I moved back in September 2021, because I knew this is where I ought to be,” says Madhura who is classically trained in hindustani and carnatic and continues to work with AR Rahman, among others.
Amirt K Narayan, singer and songwriter, 23
From the verdant fields of Palakkad to the balmy shores of Chennai, Amirt moved to the city to study at KM Music Conservatory and then continued his music education in Kalakshetra. “When I was in Kalakshetra, I got a few opportunities to perform in the city’s carnatic scene and it became obvious that if I wanted to pursue this as a career, Chennai was the place. So, I made my mind up to move to the city right after the lockdowns. I found a job as a music teacher and that allowed me to also continue to write songs and perform whenever I could. I now compose my own music, based heavily in carnatic music and Chennai continues to inspire me to find my creative best, every single day,” shares Amirt, who continues to teach music in the city.
Samson Ezekiel, musician and teacher, 32
Born and brought up in Delhi, but Tamil by ancestry, Samson moved to Chennai to study at KM Music Conservatory. His family then moved to Coimbatore and so he moved city before deciding to move back to Chennai, earlier this year. “I was always involved in music even when I was in school in Delhi and I was a part of the music scene there. I moved to Chennai to study composition and production and KM seemed like the perfect place for it. I found my voice and my mentors here. I compose all kinds of music including experimental electronica and sound art and was surprised to find an audience for these genres in the city too. The fact that most of my contacts are here and that the city embraced everything I was doing, made me realise that Chennai will be home for a while,” shares Samson, who is now faculty at his alma mater — KM Music Conservatory.
Rakshita Suresh, singer, 24
This Mysore girl, who moved to Chennai after she was placed as the first runner up on Star Vijay’s Super Singer 6 in 2018, now proudly calls the city home. Hailing from a family that has no connection to music, Rakshita was the first in her family to choose a career solely based on her voice and began her career in singing by training in carnatic and hindustani music. “I moved here right after the finals of that show, because I realised that my future will definitely be much brighter in this city. I began getting work immediately thanks to my performance on the show and that’s how I got the opportunity to work with AR Rahman too. The journey began then and the city has embraced me with so much love and care, that I do not regret my decision for even a second,” says the singer whose recent most hits include Kaalathukkam Nee Venum from Vendhu Thanindhathu Kaadu (2022) and Sol from Ponniyin Selvan 1 (2022), both composed by AR Rahman.