Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 October 2020

'Malaika': Why this classical Indian dancer hit the Abu Dhabi streets to shoot music video

From scouting locations to recording her own performance, Sangavi Prasad completed the lion’s share of production, while movement restrictions were in place

Sangavi Prasad shot her sequences in Shakhbout City, Abu Dhabi. YouTube
Sangavi Prasad shot her sequences in Shakhbout City, Abu Dhabi. YouTube

Sangavi Prasad was determined to complete her gig, even if it meant going it alone.

Such was the case in April, when the classical Indian dancer was enlisted to choreograph and perform as part of the music video Malaika (Angels).

With Abu Dhabi, at the time, subject to a 10pm movement restrictions and social distancing measures firmly in place, Prasad’s role evolved from being the on-screen talent to also acting as the location scout and videographer.

“It was a very interesting experience,” she tells The National from her Abu Dhabi home. “This was not the usual way to do a project like this but I really wanted to make it work. A lot of that is because the song is a really important one.”

Composed by Bollywood songwriters Suresh Nandan and Abhi Barnabas, the Malayalam track is a soaring tribute to nurses and social workers on the front line of the battle against the coronavirus.

“It is really beautiful and has emotional melodies,” Prasad says. “It talks about how they have made sacrifices and continue to do so. Because of that alone, I wanted to get involved with the project.”

And that meant thinking outside the box.

A one-woman show

With Malaika’s official director and editor Tijo Thankachan stuck in Kerala due to travel restrictions, a lot of logistics were completed via Zoom calls and WhatsApp messages.

It also required Prasad, 23, who studied photography in Kerala, to make good use of her location. Living in Shakhbout City, she spent a week scouting quiet areas where she could shoot her sequences.

“I would go out each day and take photos of possible locations and send them over to Tijo,” she says. “He would study them and then pick the ones he thought were best.”

The areas that made the cut were nondescript, such as a children’s playground, a quiet residential laneway and a few main roads.

This was done to facilitate the next, and most challenging, step of the project.

When it came to the actual shoot, Prasad, was essentially a one-woman crew. Returning to the chosen locations, she set up her Canon camera on a tripod, trying to capture the right frame and press record before jumping in front of the screen and engaging in the graceful movements that make up the Bharatanatyam style of classical Indian dance.

“There was a limit in social gatherings because of Covid-19, so I had to do most of it alone. Sometimes my parents would come to help,” she recalls.

“But Tijo was very helpful and he told me what he needed in terms of the framing and the kind of shot that he wanted.”

Sangavi Prasad shot her sequences in Shakhbout City, Abu Dhabi. YouTube.
Sangavi Prasad acted as filmmaker and location scout for the video shoot. YouTube

Considering all the challenges that went into making the video, the end result is nothing short of impressive. At three minutes, the production juxtaposes images of a beaming Prasad in full flow with panoramic shots of the Abu Dhabi skyline and the 123-metre flagpole on the capital’s seafront.

“I am really happy with it,” Prasad beams. “I think we did a good job and people here and in India have been talking about it.”

Making the best of every challenge

The quality of Prasad’s performance and the rather convoluted way the video was shot attracted media attention back home.

Talking to the Indian Express in June, director Thankachan said he didn't even consider the easier option of shooting the video in Kerala with a local dancer.

"Sangavi was a junior in college and one of the most brilliant dancers I have known,” he said.

“Although we had planned a lyrical video or something of that sort initially, I knew she would do more justice to what the song represented. So I reached out to her and she immediately agreed. It was an added bonus that her family was also extremely supportive.”

Prasad hopes the video will act as a showcase of her talent, on and off camera.

“I am professionally trained in Bharatanatyam, so this is something that I want to show more,” she says. “Hopefully, after the pandemic finishes and we go back to normal, I can do more of this. Until then, we all have to be a little patient and make the best of every opportunity.”

Indeed, the relative success of Malaika proves we can all take Prasad’s lead.

Updated: July 8, 2020 03:37 PM

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