The dance of chess: Watch the game come alive in this riveting crossover

Speaking to TNM, Pudukkottai collector Kavitha Ramu who conceptualised and choreographed the viral video said, “Chess pieces like the rook, kings and pawns naturally lent themselves to classical, folk and martial art forms.”
Chess video released by Pudukkottai district administration
Chess video released by Pudukkottai district administration
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Effortlessly wielding the kombu (stick) and slaying stereotypes, women Silambam artistes take position as pawns in a recently released chess video, while Malyutham artistes draped in Veshti holding Gada (a type of club) take charge as the mighty rooks. Along with the queens and kings who look regal, Therukootu artistes adorned in vibrant costumes with exquisite makeup and ornaments inlaid with mirror work appear as bishops. In a fun crossover between the game of chess and Tamil Nadu’s folk and martial art forms, we also find Poikkal Kuthirai dancers taking charge as knights wearing colourful horse shaped sculptures around their waists.

The various pieces in the chessboard come to life through the dancers and martial artists in the 3.48 minutes long video released by the Pudukkottai district administration to promote Chess Olympiad 2022. The video titled ‘Chaturangam: A dance depiction’, which was unveiled by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on July 27, has grabbed the attention of social media users who have been heaping praise on the team.

Sharing the video, CM Stalin had tweeted, “District administrations have taken various initiatives to promote #chessolympiad22. This beautiful video is by District Administration, Pudukkottai in which Classical, Folk, Mal Yutham and Silambam artists magically transport us to a World of creative fantasy, transforming into live Chess Characters, enacting the essence of the game in its true spirit.”

Helmed by Pudukkottai collector Kavitha Ramu, who is also a trained dancer, the title for the video has been inspired from the Indian version of chess known as Chaturangam, which roughly translates to ‘four-limbed’ or ‘four arms’ owing to ancient army divisions of cavalry, elephantry, chariotry, and infantry.

Speaking to TNM about the conceptualisation of the video that has now raked in lakhs of views, Kavitha Ramu said, “The idea for the video stems from the fact that I am a performing artist with 25 years of experience. When we were asked to make a video to promote chess, I immediately thought that we could create a video with a lasting impression through dance. Performing arts have ample scope for presenting a visual treat and based on the response for the video, we could see how it makes the message more impactful. Chess pieces like the rook, kings and pawns naturally lent themselves to classical, folk and martial art forms.”

Watch the video here:

The black and white pieces dancing their way through an epic face off on the chess board, are accompanied by rousing background music and bolts of fire slashing through the backdrop, thus building the tension between both the sides. The audio team included KK Senthil Prasath, who ideated it along with Kesavan Chenda and other senior artists, Kavitha said. Much like the captivating visuals 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 breathtaking visuals were shot by Vijey Raj, while Narendra Kumar choreographed and executed the dance as chess moves,” Pudukkottai collector Kavitha shared. Even the title card of the video, which uses gold accents to evoke a sense of grandeur, was reminiscent of Game of Thrones’s acclaimed title track, and earned praise from many.

Dancer Priyadarshini, an alumna of Pudukottai Music school, essays the role of the black queen, while Sahana, an alumna of Chennai’s Adyar Music College is seen as the white queen. “I spotted Priyadarshini at a women's day event and thought she would be apt once this idea was conceived. Sahana and I have been collaborating for a few years now,” Kavitha said.

Credit: Screengrab/ Twitter- @CMOTamilnadu

Credit: Screengrab/ Kavitha Ramu 

Behind-the-scenes photos from the shoot. Credit: Kavitha Ramu 

Dancers Srinivas and Manikandan play the white and black kings respectively. Kavitha added that the Poikkal Kuthirai artistes featured in the video are from MPR Folk Arts Development centre, while silambam artistes from Thiruvallur’s Murugakani Asan’s troupe appear as pawns guarding the kingdom on the chess board. Artistes from Purusai Duraisamy Kannappa Thambiran Paramparai Therukkootthu Mandram in Kancheepuram district formed the rest of the cast.

The entire game is carried out within ten moves before we reach the climax of the video where one of the team checkmates the other. Interestingly, Kavitha Ramu quips that this part of the choreography had sparked a creative discussion among the artistes. “I insisted on carrying out the original moves of chess, but other artists in the team felt that we could take creative liberties,” she remarked.

The video, which was filmed within the span of a day, ends with the black queen taking down the white king. The symbolism behind the video cannot be ignored. “It was a conscious decision to underline the white king being defeated by the black queen. It was a shot that represented how we have to do away with the interpretation that white/fairness is more beautiful. It also had a gender angle,” Kavitha observed. Notably, the colour black is often considered symbolic of the Dravidian identity. Social movements and political parties like the Dravidar Kazhagam, and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, for instance, have prominently used the colour black in its flags.

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