New Delhi: Featuring the travels of Ukrainian-born young dancing talent Sergei Polunin, through the cities of India, Shailendra Singhs ‘unplugged cinema’, “Sergei”, premiered globally.
At 18 years old, Polunin was the youngest-ever Principal Dancer for the London Royal Ballet. Having received much positive acclaim, he quit just two years later and also entered controversy. In the film that takes him through India, he and director and writer Shailendra immersed themselves in the magic of India, while having conversations never captured before on film.
Shailendra says, “Sergei and I met for only three minutes, backstage at his show in Amsterdam. I loved his personality and invited him to come to India. A few weeks later, he came without any agenda, without asking any questions. I took him from Mumbai to Varanasi to Jaipur to Rishikesh. I felt it important to document the journey in any way I could, because it was a side of this legendary that most people don’t get to see.”
According to Polunin, “India has always held a mysteriously powerful place in my heart and when he invited me, I had to go. I love Shailendra’s creative energy. It was incredible to travel with him along the Ganges and meet the people.
“The journey of the film began in Mumbai when Sergei landed and stayed here for one day. I took him first to Varanasi and it was an intense experience, we went straight to the Masan Ghat which Sergei had never seen before. He stood there observing the cremations, sadhus, and the rituals, he wasn’t shy at all. Dead bodies were walked over, being carried right by him but he didn’t fling and felt the power in that experience. We went to a Shiva temple where they led us to play the drums during the prayer session. We spent one night in Jaipur at the Amber Fort where we had a beautiful dinner and some extremely versatile musicians played music for us. It was Rishikesh that Sergei fell in love with and that’s the place known as the birthplace of Yoga.
“He was fully enraptured with the Ganga river, he took a dip in the water on my request. It was an overall incredibly intensive and immersive experience in which Sergei fully allowed himself to flow along with much like the Ganga, he flowed along with experience asking curious questions but never doubting or questioning where we were going next. He absolutely loved India and he talked to people and connected especially with the children,” Singh said.
How did he connect the travels to dance? “One of the strongest elements from his trip here was his connection with Shiva, especially at the Shiva temples in Varanasi and the aartis in Rishikesh. He really felt the power of Shiva and had known about Shiva before, but didn’t realize that Shiva was the god of dance. Being a dancer, he was greatly moved by Nataraja and took that to heart, and while in Rishikesh he got a tattoo of Shiva at the very center of his back. Out of all the tattoos he has it’s the Shiva tattoo that is the most powerful and contains the most energy.”