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When Multiple Worlds Collide: Antariksha Sanchar’s Experiments with Animation, Bharatnatyam and Electro-Fusion

The multimedia performance based on an upcoming video game attempts to tie together a lot in under 90 minutes

Anurag Tagat Nov 26, 2018

Antariksha Sanchar at the Royal Opera House, Mumbai. Photo: Ali Bharmal/Red Bull Content Pool

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Even if you read the press release or just tried explaining why you were heading to the opulent Royal Opera House in Mumbai on a Thursday night, Antariksha Sanchar involves unpacking a lot. But therein lies the intrigue, because you assume despite multitudinous elements, it’s going to all make sense.

On November 22nd, Red Bull Music presented a show that was originally conceived as a Bharatnatyam performance in 2010, but was adapted into an adventure video game that once again returned to the stage, in opera style. It features a fictional storyline based in history as well as mythology, placing mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan in the early 1900s in Madurai, dreaming of piloting a vehicle that takes him to explore outer space. He gleans knowledge and wields power from stories of the Pushpak Vimana and Hanuman, but also texts from the Natya Shastra (the sacred book of performing arts) Sangam literature, the Rig Veda and more. There’s precise and emotive dancing, voiceovers to progress the plot, psychedelic visuals and vivid graphics. Plus, live electronic music that goes over Carnatic sections of vocals, percussion and violin.

The Royal Opera House performance of Antariksha Sanchar in Mumbai. Photo: Ali Bharmal/Red Bull Content Pool

Perhaps at the center of this massive production is a mother-son relationship, although it was entirely underplayed and unmentioned at the Royal Opera House. Veteran dancer and choreographer Jayalakshmi Eshwar scripted and performed (along with her troupe) Antariksha Sanchar in 2010 and 2011. She recalls how her son Avinash Kumar (aka Thiruda) – co-founder of audio-visual electronic act BLOT – offered to work on visuals and graphics for the performance. “That time he said, ‘Yes yes mummy, I will do it for you’ but then just in the nick of time he said he was going abroad,” Eshwar recalls with a laugh.

Jayalakshmi Eshwar and Avinash Kumar backstage ahead of performing Antariksha Sanchar. Photo: Ali Bharmal/Red Bull Content Pool

Kumar, based in Goa, was around to catch the performance and experience it a couple of times over. They had already collaborated on previous productions, but this was around the same time that Kumar’s “interdisciplinary consultancy” studio Quicksand was getting into game design. “We were looking for an idea for a story to develop our own video game,” he says. In the years that the game Antariksha Sanchar was in production with help from at least 20 graphic artists and animators from across the country, Kumar says many people took notice, including Red Bull India.

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That led to calling in Hyderabad-based seasoned producer M.S.R. Murthy aka Murthovic to helm the music side of the video game and subsequently, also the stage production. Murthovic’s live ensemble comprised vocalist Shridevi Keshavan (previously part of electronic act Gods Robots), violinist Abhijit Gurjale, mridangam player Raghuram Hari, bassist-keyboardist Yanni aka Vijay Nelapati and drummer Hitesh Kumar. In addition to releasing the music as a stand-alone record, a live performance relies on backing tracks as well as the fusion sound, which bounces in and out of breakbeats, basslines and Carnatic tradition. There’s also plenty of sound design, which Murthovic says he enjoyed crafting. “It’s something I’ve done out of my comfort zone usually. It’s a totally different narrative, from an electronic musician’s perspective. It’s our very humble take on preserving something that I wouldn’t say dying, but diminishing in a way.”

Hyderabad-based electronic music producer Murthovic helmed music duties at Antariksha Sanchar. Photo: Ali Bharmal/Red Bull Content Pool

While Murthovic says his personal upbringing in a household that loved Carnatic music (and even brought about a few years of training) was one connection to Antariksha Sanchar, Kumar said at the show that he didn’t “get to be Tamilian in Delhi in a certain way.” Eshwar says, “Avinash calls it a crazy production – you have to convince. I am convinced that what I’m doing is right for me and everyone is enjoying, then we are successful.”

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Antariksha Sanchar, in its 84-minute run was attended by electronic music producers and fans, game designers, dancers and followers for Carnatic music alike, but you’d certainly have to be a fan of all three elements – dance, graphics and music – to enjoy the show in its entirety. It pulls in many directions through the course of five acts, but narrates a tale of self-discovery and self-belief, taking the route of dreams, myths and aesthetics.

It does at some point breach that space of mythology colliding with history, with claims that Indians invented flying, but it presents this within a science fiction realm. Eshwar says, “One person said, it’s a fantastic cocktail, but It’s having aesthetic appeal. Everything is like a myth, but a myth with purpose.”

Red Bull Music Presents Antariksha Sanchar will be staged on December 5th, 2018 at Kamani Auditorium, New Delhi. RSVP here.

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