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O for Omg!

June 9, 2020

Continuing my vowel movement, we reach O.

OMG! That's what O has come to represent today, most. OMG indeed for the sheer survival skills of dancers, especially the FB-fittest lot, Darwin be damned! What did he know of internet era and sheer need for virtual presence or desperation in times of karo-na!?

Lockdown period gave new challenges too.
Many who were neither smart nor had smart phones - or young ones or students and only tablets they knew were for assorted ailments - quietly sat at home and reflected on life and times. Some read. Or wrote. Or created future productions. Others still tested their tolerance and patience by doing NOTHING, and a few, went on pontificating. But the ones with the fastest fingers - first had an empty field in May and were not only on Facebook but some, in-the-face too! Oh my gawd! Were they busy? Cluttering the internet with mindless posts, each thinking they had 2 minute window for 2 minute fame. The worst part was some can't even dance. They are mere mime artistes. Just make literal gestures to a Lennon song or Annamacharya. Both get same treatment in their hands, which is anyway very limited hastas vocabulary. So, a common man watching such dancing may further get alienated from Indian dance forms. Internet dance might win some and lose more audiences if anything goes on it.

In a way, it also showed how creative, dancers could get, when challenged by circumstances. For many, income from classes were gone as no one paid up or wanted to. It clearly established how classes alone sustain a dancer of ordinary ilk, not shows. It also brought this virtual medium in focus - which can get in audience easily at click of a button - but just as easily the same audience can walk out too. Then too, many posts proved audiences can be kept captive only with content, not fluff. On or off stage. Unlike in a hall, where one has made an effort to go, spend an evening, drive or be dropped, even made dinner plans post performance, then one stays put in the hall for better or worse; here on the net, there's absolutely no need to stay on beyond two minutes if content is not worthy. But with many diversions and choices in our personal space of home or office, viewing arts has several layers of questions too... of sustainability, staying power or sheer gumption.

Imagine, social media came to help in times of social distancing! An oxymoron? Corona virus has been called correctly just 'Chinese virus' by Trump. He has the guts to call a Chinese a Chinese! Three million people of 200 nationalities dead, 50 countries' economies in shambles and are we to be polite? As the science educator Sonam Wangchuk (discovered through Aamir Khan's cameo in 3 Idiots) said on his video post from Ladakh last week after Chinese incursions and military built up in Ladakh: Boycott Chinese goods! Period. That's what would hit the hardest. Boycott, worldwide. A TV report said 30% of our diamonds came from there? Do we really need them when maybe more than 30% of India has no food to eat? 50% of our polished steel came from there? 90% of chips in cell phones came from China? Are we so incompetent? Is our manufacturing so bad? No, it is our greed. Chinese cheap pricing. That's it. Forget the diwali lamps, mosquito racquets or flimsy phones. A to Z we are importing from China making it richer. And stronger. Add faltu things like furniture, utensils, shoes, scents, even clothes. Sounds like when our raw material was taken to England and sold back to us, when we were a colony of the British Empire just 70 years ago. Have we learnt nothing from history?

Here's the A to Z of dance, a model we tried 20 years ago in the first issue of our yearbook attenDance that first appeared in 1999 and the inside cover had an A to Z news calendar. Remember, this was 1999, no internet, no one remembered what had happened, when or why or by whom. I tried doing that for the lockdown month 2 in May and recalled:

Alarmel Valli was brought out of hibernation (she is too understated and sophisticated to be part of the hoi polloi, in-the-face brigade) and to the fore by The Hindu no less (the best get the best) and it broadcast her life in dance with a caring mother. On Mother's Day, this was meaningful. Valli stands for class in classical dance.

Birju Maharaj, the doyen of dance, was part of a group montage film and in half a minute he wowed all. That's a true Master. Now, why couldn't DD show old dance films, when we all had time to see its footage? Missed opportunity.

Cheruthurthy (that's KKM, that's Kerala Kala Mandalam for the uninitiated) remained an oasis of art movement. Time stood still. Cherichetti Beppe of TTB passed away in April (7th) but things were so bad in Italy, they could only do the final cremation and farewell in May.

Daksha Sheth takes 5 to 7 years to create a work! Even 10. She says she is not in the market for making instant coffee, noodles or soda pop. No wonder her art is deep. Doctors in Tamilnadu created their own dance to change the deathly mood in wards and danced on!

Elangovan Marie continues to dance on. Canada is the best country to get grants in and work. Many dancers have settled there. It's a boon to those who want to do creative work, unfettered by having to run after sundry babus for measly grants in India. Go west, young man, go West.

Festivals of India as an idea are over for cultural exchange, though sometimes the title still gets used on and off by bodies like the ICCR. No, we are not merely celebrating various traditional and religious festivals but art festivals.

Gowri Ramnarayan

Gowri Ramnarayan, the diehard dance-music-theatre fiend was in conversation about her approach to 'naatya' - a word veteran guru V.P. Dhananjayan insists we use and not 'dance.'

Himanshu Joshi created Kumaon Diaries on folk culture of Kumaon, continuing Mohan Upreti's legacy. He may be at sea with Indian Ocean group he sings for but he is essentially a mountain lad.

IGNCA remained the most active cultural institution even in lockdown, as a refined head Dr. Sachchidanand Joshi kept public interface and lectures on. Minimum three events a week. Wow! Dr. Gaur, Dean of Kalanidhi, helped mount some.

Jaipur gharana of Kathak was seen in DD archives film on Pt. Durgalal, sharing the stage with Jayant Kastuar (anyone remembers him? Art world used him, then abused him and finally lost him, as they do with most babus/facilitators, in most cultural institutions) as a padhant boy, all of 20 plus!

Kamalini-Nalini, the Kathak duo, hosted a meaningful focus on Benaras gharana, which they learnt from Guru Jitendra Maharaj and have furthered the form beyond boundaries of Benaras or Delhi. These two have spunk and substance.

Lakshminarayan Jena, that energetic young Kathak dancer, valiantly managed classes for his Guru Mysore Nagaraj who was stuck just 120km away in Mysore in lockdown. He thought of walking back but knowing Kathak, he knew he would end up in circles! So he stayed put and didn't even try mounting a Mysore Dusshera official vehicle - the royal elephant - in order to reach back.

Madras is an emotion, Chennai is a city, I had said at NKC 2019 and many clapped by way of agreeing. I said nothing original; it was printed on a T at an airport shop! So the month of May showed where there's a will there's a way. Kalakshetra conducted online class and exams as did many institutions.

Nirupama Kotru is one pillar of the Culture Ministry, who is JS rank and has worked under 3 or more Culture Secretaries in as many years! The dashing Raghavendra Singh, handsome Arun Goel and now a happening Anand Kumar. She is from the IRS and very efficient and effective. In lockdown months, she motivated Kalakshetra, SNA, IGNCA and 36 institutions under charge of the Ministry to become active and deliver.

Orissi's new gem, Meera Das retains lalitya almost lost in the last decade as seen in her group work at Khajuraho Festival, which was a hit. Orissi's most sonorous singer in Delhi, Purno Chandra Majhi died in lockdown months. Due to restrictions, few could pay last homage.

Shama Bhate

Pune's Shama Bhate showed high aesthetics in a 3-minute post called MMCM = Madame Menaka Choreography Movement. She continues to put Pune on the world map of Kathak. Partho Das, the exceptional sitarist, ex SBKK (Sriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra), ex BVB (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan) died too in lockdown months.

Queen Elizabeth of England turned 94 in April! That's a big OMG! She has survived 2 world wars, loss of 50 colonies, seen a dozen plus USA presidents, over two dozen British PMs and survived many viruses. Dance on lady, dance on.

Rukmini Vijayakumar danced on and remains number one in yogic BN. Her tours and works show her worldwide standing. So content still is the king, no amount of posing and posturing on social media helps.

Sonal Mansingh

Sonal Mansingh, diva, undertook many FB live and other assorted platforms to lecture on a variety of subjects. She took up the cause of folk artistes too. Here's a real people's rep, as an MP ought to be.

Taka dhi mi ta or Tal Mel type TV serials could've been re-telecast by DD for dance lovers who were locked down. In fact, DD missed a great opportunity, as did SNA, for not sharing its wealth of archives with hungry for real content art crowds who had time and focus during the lockdown months. Maybe they unlock their treasures in Unlockdown one.

Universities and their dance depts had a longer LOCKDOWN than the normal, official four months in a year! Not one university dance dept made any effort to showcase ANYTHING MEANINGFUL. When one gets salary for not performing, what can be better!?

Vyjayanthimala, a real icon, diva and superstar, without doing any drama on the internet, remained the most loved and respected by all in dance world. That's why platinum is different than gold from silver and other metals.

Waheeda Rehman

Waheeda Rehman! That ace disciple of gurus Jayalakshmi Alva and Lacchu Maharaj still holds sway by being a star guest on TV dance shows and her charm and beauty have not diminished one bit from Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam and Guide days. She lives in Bombay and Bangalore and whenever one comes across her, there's that easy access and goodness of being that comes through. Real icons remain down to earth, forever.

Xtras remain important too as filler artistes, though the term sounds derogatory in early films. It's only in last two decades such are called supporting cast and more. Many eminent names in dance and films started off as extras.

Yamini Krishnamurti remains a benchmark in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. I recall when in late 1960s the IIC, Delhi had no covered hall and a stage with tent had been created for her to perform and when she came on stage, boy there was electric energy of the celestial kind. No other dancer has had that kind of presence on and off stage. She remains in her own world now, having conquered the world through art.

Zohra Segal

Zohra Segal would've used the lockdown period to create anew. This last great from Uday Shankar studios, has had a chequered life, from stage to theatre to films and imagine she reached far and wide those days without zoom. She zoomed her way through art. Now zoom means technology. What a paradigm shift!

Lockdown 5 or Unlockdown 1 (One)
We began with an O, so Om tathastu!

The author is a humourist at heart despite wearing hats of historian, author, critic, arts administrator and editor. More on


Very much appreciate your well researched article, Ashishji.
Agree totally with your views on mindless FB performances.
However, in these gloomy times, FB may be the best option to spend time constructively. Of course, this is my personal opinion.
-  Sujata Bhide (June 19, 2020)

OMG... So many musings... But well said simply, wittily.
- Veena Murthy Vijay (June 18, 2020)

Simple and to the point! Loved the A-Z...
Waiting for the next article!
   -  Neha Muthiyan (June 15, 2020)

Beautifully covered this pandemic situation with great information of all the artists..Online shows of any form is actually ruining the beauty behind the hardwork of an artist for their art. But do not forget we shall overcome one day.. Loved the article. Kudos to Ashish Da.
- Nancy Sahu (June 14, 2020)

So true about FB shows. Too much of anything is bad and too much of bad is worse. OMG gave a good view of happenings all around. Thank you.
- Gayathri Keshavan (June 12, 2020)

Nicely written and important points made. The surge in online dance festivals or posts is killing quality in the art.
- Sampada Pillai (June 11, 2020)

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