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  By Sarat Chandra

In Mira Nair’s latest celluloid creation, My Own Country (scheduled to be released sometime next month) the heroine is a Canadian-born Oriya girl. She is Ellora Patnaik, a young, beautiful brunette of slight built. But the debut actress isn’t just apretty face. She is a multi-faceted artist. Ellora’s brush with fame came much before Nair’s film. She was a classical Odissi dancer and theatre artist before being spotted for the role.

Patnaik was in India last year to perform at the dance and music festival at Konark in February. As a dance critic I was naturally inclined to know more about this dancer-turned-actress. The information about her screen debut in My Own Country came as asurprise, since she evinces all the qualities of an Odissi exponent in the making. And acting being quite another realm altogether, I was curious about how she managed the two.Born into a family of artists — her mother Chitralekha is a well-known Odissi dancer-teacher who runs the Chitralekha Dance Academy in Toronto and her brother Devraj too is a skilled mridangam player — she started early under some very able dance guruslike Kelu Charan Mohapatra and Gangadhar Pradhan. Her training was further intensified under her mother and Los Angeles-based dancer Nandita Patnaik.

During the mid-Nineties the young dancer joined the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. After completing a two-year course at the academy, she was selected for its Repertory Company with 15 other meritorious students. Thereby for a year she wasout performing for a larger audience, enacting characters from the classics of Shakespeare, Anton Chekov and Eugene O’ Neil.

Having been thus enriched Ellora began her acting career in Toronto through a play by Girish Karnad called Nagamandalam. At that time Mira Nair was talent scouting for a heroine for My Own Country. And she happened to watch the play and was considerablyimpressed by Ellora’s performance. So much so that she decided on casting Ellora as her next leading lady.

The movie is scheduled to hit international theatres in September. The film is based on an autobiographical book (by the same name) by Dr Abraham Verghese, an Indian doctor living in Boston. Verghese is a specialist in infectious diseases (AIDS inparticular).

The film is about a doctor’s deep involvement with his patients, and his floundering marital life under the demands of his professional calling. Ellora plays the doctor-protagonist’s wife.

Now, whether her acting is as good as her dance, we’ll have to wait, watch and then judge.


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