'Modern dance is like a circus'
The first Telugu reality television show Aata is now in its fifth season, and has enthralled audiences for three years now.
The winners of the earlier seasons have moved on since then -- Nandhigam Geethika and Tamarapalli Sandeep are trying their luck in Telugu cinema while Gundu Ameeth is currently in Zee TV's Dance India Dance.
If the talent and competition on the show were not enough, the tiff between the judges Mugur Sundar (fondly known as Sundaram Master) and Tina Sadhu are a huge contributing factor to the audience's voice on the show. Sundaram Master is the father of India's dancing sensation Prabhu Deva and choreographer, Raju Sundaram.
Sundaram Master talks to Shwetal Rai about the popular show.
You've choreographed over 10,000 dance sequences for various South Indian films. What made you decide to judge a dance show?
It was a very valuable offer. The show was extremely well organised and the contestants, very talented. The television channel was good, as was the producer-anchor, Omkar. That's why when I was asked to judge from Aata 2 onwards, I gladly accepted the offer. The ongoing season is especially close to my heart since it is a children's dance competition.
Image: Aata winner Gundu Ameeth
'Only after I started judging Aata did I come in the public eye'
What do you like best about this show?
Aata 5 has some very talented child contestants. They treat me like a grandfather. For me, they are not just contestants. They are like my own grandchildren. They even call me tata (grandfather). We have struck a relationship.
Backstage, it is like a family. The women and children respect me, they value my opinion and ask for my judgment. I feel satisfied and honoured.
What was your best experience on this show?
My best experience has been the love and recognition I have received from the audience. I have been a choreographer for 56 years now. I have worked with the biggest names in South Indian cinema -- from Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Dr Raj Kumar, Rajnikanth sir, Kamal Haasan... Yet, I never achieved public recognition and love. Only after I started judging Aata did I come in the public eye. That's why striking a relationship and rapport with the contestants, both on and off stage, has been the best part of judging.
Image: A scene from Aata
'I prefer traditional dance'
What is the judging criteria that you follow?
The dance style and confidence of the contestants are the main factors I consider. My past experience in films and working with stalwarts like MGR and Nagesh has helped me tremendously while judging this show. When it comes to dance styles, I prefer traditional dance.
Today's generation, however, prefers modern dance. But that's okay.
I believe that it is only through traditional dance forms that one can express art, tell a story and portray the intensity of emotion -- through slow and graceful movements. In modern dance forms, you can't portray all this. Modern dance is like an exercise. It's like a circus. I have always preferred traditional dance forms. Thankfully, 60-70 percent of the contestants in Aata 5 perform traditional dance forms.
Image: The Aata contestants
'There has never been a bad experience'
What has been your worst experience on the show?
Luckily for me, there has never been a bad experience. Audience and contestants honour me.
But I am very frank and share my feedback openly. If a contestant retorts, I don't accept it. I am a professional who is watching and judging the show. I can say which performance is better. The performers themselves will not know what they are doing wrong -- that's why I am there to help them.
Image: Anchor Omkar and Sundaram Master
'Tina and I don't see eye to eye'
How does it feel to co-judge with Tina?
She has her own style, she's very modern. We don't see eye to eye.
She gives her feedback to the participants, and I give mine. I am very frank. I don't say things just to please the kids. I believe that they should know the truth about their performances. The public like honest opinions and have always supported my judgment and me. What feedback the children want to incorporate into their dance styles is left up to them.
Image: The sets of Aata