Watch the game come alive in this immersive crossover

Speaking to TNM, Pudukkottai collector Kavitha Ramu, who conceived and choreographed the viral video, said, “Chess pieces like rooks, kings and pawns naturally lend themselves to classical, folk and martial arts forms.”

Wielding the kombu (stick) effortlessly and smashing clichés, women Silambam Artists take positions as chess pieces in a recently released chess video while Malyutham Performers draped in Veshti posture Gada (a kind of club) take command as mighty towers. Along with the queens and kings looking royal Therukootu Performers, adorned in colorful costumes with exquisite makeup and ornaments inlaid with mirrorwork, act as bishops. We also find it in a fun crossover between the game of chess and Tamil Nadu’s folk and martial arts forms Poikkal Kuthirai Dancers who take charge as knights, wearing colorful horse-shaped sculptures around their waists.

The various figures on the chessboard are brought to life by the dancers and martial artists in the 3.48-minute video released by the Pudukkottai District Government to promote the 2022 Chess Olympiad. The video, titled “Chaturangam: A Dance Display,” unveiled by Tamil Nadu Prime Minister MK Stalin on July 27 drew the attention of social media users, who showered the team with praise.

Sharing the video, CM Stalin tweeted: “District administrations have taken various initiatives to promote #chessolympiad22. This beautiful video is from the Pudukkottai District Government, in which Classical, Folk, Mal Yutham and Silambam artists magically transport us into a world of creative imagination, transforming themselves into living chess pieces and the essence of the game in its true spirit represent.”

Led by Pudukkottai collector Kavitha Ramu, who is also a trained dancer, the video’s title was inspired by the Indian version of chess known as Chaturangamwhich roughly translates to “four-limbed” or “four arms”, due to the ancient army divisions of cavalry, elephant, chariot, and infantry.

Speaking to TNM about conceptualizing the video, which has since garnered countless views, Kavitha Ramu said, “The idea for the video stems from the fact that I’m a performing artist with 25 years of experience. When we were asked to make a video to promote chess, I immediately thought we could make a video with a lasting impact through dance. Performing arts have ample scope to present a visual treat and based on the response to the video we could see how it makes the message more impactful. Chess pieces like rooks, kings and pawns naturally lent themselves to classical, folk and martial arts forms.”

Watch the video here:

The black-and-white figures dancing their way through an epic duel on the chessboard are accompanied by rousing background music and jets of fire blasting through the backdrop, building tension between the two sides. The audio team included KK Senthil Prasath, who conceived it alongside Kesavan Chenda and other veteran artists, Kavitha said. Similar to the captivating graphics and music, the blue light on the white side and the warm yellow lights on the black side also add to the exquisiteness of the choreography. “The stunning images were shot by Vijey Raj while Narendra Kumar choreographed and performed the dance as chess moves,” shared Pudukkottai collector Kavitha. Even the video’s title card, which evokes a sense of grandeur with gold accents, evoked The ones from Game of Thrones acclaimed title track and praised by many.

Dancer Priyadarshini, a graduate of Pudukottai Music School, tries her hand at the role of the black queen, while Sahana, a graduate of Adyar Music College in Chennai, is considered the white queen. “I saw Priyadarshini at a women’s day event and thought she would be suitable once this idea was conceived. Sahana and I have been working together for a number of years now,” said Kavitha.

Photo credit: Screengrab/ Twitter- @CMOTamilnadu

Credit: Screengrab/ Kavitha Ramu

Behind-the-scenes photos from the shoot. Photo credit: Kavitha Ramu

The dancers Srinivas and Manikandan play the white and black kings respectively. Kavitha added that the Poikkal Kuthirai artists featured in the video are from the MPR Folk Arts Development Center, while Silambam artists from Thiruvallur’s Murugakani Asan troupe appear as pawns guarding the kingdom on the chessboard. Artists from Purusai Duraisamy Kannappa Thambiran Paramparai Therukkootthu Mandram in Kancheepuram district made up the rest of the cast.

The entire game is played out within ten moves before we reach the climax of the video where one of the teams checkmates the other. Interestingly, Kavitha Ramu jokes that this part of the choreography sparked a creative discussion among the artists. “I insisted on doing the original moves, but other artists on the team felt we could take creative liberties,” she noted.

The video, shot in a day, ends with the black queen defeating the white king. The symbolism behind the video cannot be overlooked. “It was a conscious decision to emphasize that the white king is defeated by the black queen. It was a shot that showed how we need to do away with the interpretation that white/brightness is nicer. It also had a gender aspect,” noted Kavitha. The color black in particular is often seen as a symbol of Dravidian identity. Social movements and political parties such as Dravidar Kazhagam and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have prominently used the color black in their flags.

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