Savitha Sastry is an Indian dancer and choreographer best known as an exponent of Bharatanatyam. She is known to experiment with the format of traditional Bharatanatyam by using the techniques of Bharatanatyam to showcase theme-based productions based on novel stories.
Last Updated: October 25, 2023
Savitha Sastry, born on December 11, 1969, is a celebrated Indian dancer and choreographer, widely recognized for her exceptional contributions to Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance form. However, what truly sets her apart is her innovative approach to Bharatanatyam, where she seamlessly blends traditional techniques with contemporary themes, breaking free from the constraints of mythological and religious narratives. Her unique storytelling through dance has earned her accolades and titles such as ‘path-breaking’ and ‘renaissance architect.’
Early Life and Education:
Savitha Subramaniam, as she was known before marriage, was born in Hyderabad and later lived in Mumbai before her family moved to their hometown of Chennai. Her journey into the world of Bharatanatyam began under the guidance of Guru Mahalingam Pillai at the Sri Rajarajeswari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir in Mumbai. In Chennai, she continued her training under the tutelage of Adyar K Lakshman and the Dhananjayans. Her academic pursuits led her to complete her schooling at the P.S Senior Secondary School in Chennai, followed by her graduation from Stella Maris College.
Savitha’s dedication to Bharatanatyam led her to play a significant role as the lead dancer in the Tamil film “Ananda Tandavam” in 1986, a production directed by her Guru, Adyar K Lakshman. Her quest for knowledge took her to the United States, where she pursued a master’s degree in neuroscience, showcasing her commitment to both art and education.
During the 1980s, 1990s, and the early 2000s, Savitha Sastry primarily focused on performing traditional Bharatanatyam repertoires. She presented several classical productions, including notable works such as “Krishna: The Supreme Mystic” and “Purushartha.”
Savitha’s unique talent lies in her extraordinary command of Bharatanatyam’s technical aspects. Her dance performances are characterized by crisp nritta (pure dance), clean lines, and flawless aramandi, earning her praise for her precision and grace. Critics and audiences have often described her performances as a temple sculpture coming to life, a testament to her exceptional skills.
In 2009, Savitha Sastry embarked on a remarkable artistic journey, departing from traditional Bharatanatyam margams and delving into theme-based productions. What makes her work truly distinctive is her choice of contemporary and original storylines for her performances. Her narratives frequently involve the portrayal of multiple characters by a solo performer, a departure from the conventional Bharatanatyam focus on the nayika (the heroine) yearning for love or stories rooted in Bhakti (devotion) themes.
Some of her notable productions include:
- “Music Within” (2010): This production presented a modern narrative while maintaining the classical framework of Bharatanatyam.
- “Soul Cages” (2012): This performance explored the themes of life, death, and what lies beyond, offering a fresh perspective on the traditional art form.
- “The Prophet: Destiny. Divinity. Doubt” (2013): In this production, Savitha Sastry delved into profound philosophical thoughts while maintaining her characteristic grace and elegance.
- “Chains: Love Stories of Shadows” (2015): A production that took the audience on a journey through love stories intertwined with shadows.
Savitha Sastry’s ability to infuse contemporary content with the centuries-old dance form of Bharatanatyam has resulted in a unique niche that captivates audiences. Critics and viewers have hailed her work as a renaissance in the traditional art form, as she marries the aesthetics of Bharatanatyam with intelligent and novel storylines. Her artistry transcends pigeonholes, inspiring aspiring dancers to explore the vast tradition without the baggage of restrictive thinking.
All of her productions have been based on short stories written by her husband, AK Srikanth. The music for her productions is composed by Rajkumar Bharathi, the great-grandson of renowned poet Subramania Bharathi. These performances have received critical acclaim across the globe, taking place in the Indian Subcontinent, Australia, South East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
Savitha Sastry and AK Srikanth have also introduced an interactive element to their performances. After each show, they engage in a Q&A session with the audience, where they discuss the presentation and its underlying themes. This interaction has earned them praise for their ability to convey deeply philosophical thoughts with simplicity, élan, and elegance.
The “Dancing Storyteller” and Digital Productions:
Savitha Sastry’s unique approach to Bharatanatyam has led to her being dubbed the “Dancing Storyteller” by the popular press. This recognition reflects her ability to seamlessly weave stories into her dance performances, transcending the boundaries of conventional Bharatanatyam.
Since 2018, Savitha Sastry and AK Srikanth have been releasing their productions on free-to-stream digital platforms, making their work accessible to a global audience. They have also ventured into creating short classical dance videos that narrate unique stories, much like popular music videos. Their short films have garnered widespread acclaim and have been nominated at over 50 film festivals worldwide.
One of their early digital releases, “The Descent,” explored the story of a fallen superstar and delved into themes of depression. The film received numerous awards, including Best Short Film at the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival, the Top Shorts Awards, and the Near Nazareth Festival, among others. It was also nominated at several prestigious international film festivals.
In 2020 and 2021, Savitha Sastry and AK Srikanth unveiled their highly acclaimed “Colors Trilogy.” This series of three films, based on the colors of the Indian National Flag—Green, White, and Saffron—explored the ideals behind these colors as envisioned by the Founding Fathers of Indian independence. The films juxtaposed these historical ideals with the lives of contemporary Indian women. The trilogy offered a unique perspective on the evolving role of women in India.
The Colors Trilogy was met with resounding critical acclaim. Business Standard praised AK Srikanth’s storytelling, highlighting how it came to life in the films, enriching the viewer’s experience. The trilogy was seen as a fitting tribute to the strength and courage of women.
Continuing their digital journey, Savitha Sastry and AK Srikanth released “Beyond the Rains” in 2022, based on Srikanth’s short story “The Girl in the Bubble.” This short film was structured like a Haiku and was celebrated for its delicate portrayal of the theme of love.
In June 2022, they presented “Dvija,” a short film inspired by Ueda Akinari’s “Harusame Monogatari.” The film coincided with the ten-year anniversary of their production company, marking another milestone in their artistic journey.
Their commitment to exploring diverse themes and narratives continued with the release of “Arangetram” in September 2022. This humorous take on the aspirations of the Indian middle class and their dreams was lauded as a rare genre—a breezy family entertainer.
The film was appreciated not only for Savitha’s character but also for the quirky and eccentric supporting cast that made the characterization believable and joyous. “Arangetram” harkened back to the cinema of breezy comedies by stalwarts such as Amol Palekar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, and Basu Chatterjee.
In March 2023, they introduced the second installment of their ‘Families Trilogy’ with “Filter Coffee.” This film was a nostalgic journey, reminiscent of the breezy and light-hearted films of the 70s, evoking a sense of classic Indian cinema.
July 2023 saw the launch of “Slow Rivers,” a film that featured Bollywood icon Ashish Vidyarthi. This narrative revolved around the complex relationship between an artist and her art, blurring the lines between reality and illusion. Critics praised the powerful on-screen presence of Ashish Vidyarthi and Savitha Sastry, acknowledging the depth of their roles and the philosophical discussions they sparked about the connection between art and the artist.
Dance Theatre Productions:
Savitha Sastry and AK Srikanth’s artistic endeavors extend beyond the realm of short films and digital productions. Their dance theatre productions have left an indelible mark on the world of performing arts. Some of their noteworthy dance theatre productions include:
- “Purushartha” (2002)
- “Sacrifice” (2003)
- “Krishna – The Supreme Mystic” (2006)
- “Music Within” (2010)
- “Soul Cages: The Story of Life, Death & Beyond” (2012)
- “Yudh – Three Perspectives, One Truth” (2013)
- “The Prophet: Destiny. Divinity. Doubt” (2013)
- “Chains: Love Stories of Shadows” (2015)
- “In God’s Country” (2015)
- “Music Within – The Group Presentation” (2020)
Their contributions to the world of documentaries have also been noteworthy. Some of their documentary works include:
- “Elysian Pursuits: The Digital Years” (2022)
- “Elysian Pursuits: The Journey of Savitha Sastry” (2015)
- “Sex, Death & the Gods” – a BBC documentary (2011)
This wide-ranging portfolio reflects their commitment to exploring diverse forms of storytelling, capturing the essence of various themes and human experiences.
Savitha Sastry and AK Srikanth have made a significant impact on the world of art and entertainment, continually pushing the boundaries of storytelling. Their innovative and experimental approach to Bharatanatyam and their ability to narrate compelling stories through dance have garnered them critical acclaim and a dedicated following. Their foray into the digital space has further expanded their reach, allowing their work to resonate with a global audience. With each new project, they continue to craft narratives that touch the hearts and minds of viewers, leaving an enduring imprint on the world of performing arts. As a pioneering force in both Bharatanatyam and digital storytelling, their creative journey promises to inspire both established and emerging talents in the industry. Their ability to merge tradition with modernity and to explore complex narratives through dance remains a testament to their remarkable artistic vision and dedication to the craft.