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The Scientist President

Wednesday, March 28, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

There is certainly a lot of drama in the life of scientist-turned-president, APJ Abdul Kalam; the son of a boatman, Kalam sold newspapers to supplement his family’s income. Still, he had the brains, ambition and drive to rise above his humble beginnings and go on to become a renowned scientist, and eventually the President of India.

Raja Anand heard a speech by Kalam at an event in 2007 and was inspired to bring his story on  stage, with the dance production, Missile Man, that was performed in Mumbai as part of the Theatre Oympics.

Anand the artistic director of the Delhi-based group, Space Performing Arts, is also a dancer, choreographer and teacher. His expertise in dance had led to the production portraying Kalam’s life entirely through dance, with projection and a voiceover explaining key aspects of Kalam’s life and his work with India’s missile programme, that developed Agni, an intermediate range ballistic missile and Prithvi the surface-to-surface missile.

The young male dancers, dressed in khaki and blue military-inspired costumes bring to the stage grace and exuberance, but the production expects that the audience knows about Kalam’s life. If they don’t they would be baffled by the piece with masked men dressed in saffron, which is meant to depict Kalam’s visit to the Shivananda Ashram; or the piece with masked man dancing with newspapers to portray the initial media criticism of Kalam’s work.

When asked in a post-show discussion with the audience, Anand admitted that he gave precedence to dance over content, and hoped people managed to piece together the story with the help of the captions of the projected photographs and the voiceover.  Even if they did not, the hour-long performance was enjoyable. Anand, who is trained in Kathakali, Chhau and contemporary dance, uses elements of these to his choreography, the tilt however, being more towards break dance and hip-hop. Perhaps the curiosity of his audience will be aroused enough for them to find out more about APJ Kalam, the scientist, spiritual seeker, writer, speaker, and undoubtedly India’s most popular President.

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