Bolly Natyam; Solo Satyam
May 29, 2022
Only a culturally rich and quaint university town in a royal setting like Baroda could have a Bolly Natyam school or class. Gujus are the ultimate mix-n-match folks, with enthu genes. Much like the Punj of Delhi (that's v. v. different than real Punjabis of Punjab), Gujus of especially happening twin cities Baroda/Ahmedabad dance to their own tune. Going in circles comes naturally to these garba-DNA folks but making a success shop of anything they touch is also an important attribute.
So, what do I see in old Wadi area, next to my spiritual guru's house? An enterprising ex-forest service officer's daughter has started a Bolly-Natyam class for neighbourhood lasses. Gujus know ultimately, like Punjabis, they'd settle abroad so any skill is useful to arrive, even in an alien land. Dance today is the in thing. Dandiya or Disco, Bharatanatyam or Bollywood.
Speaking of Bollywood, as it has mass appeal what surprises me is its sheer survival skill. Most choreographers there know more about Samba than Sambar. They know all western trends and forms but can't even identify an Indian. That's why the new museum on films, called something like Gulshan Mahal (Ex Nizam of Hyderabad property restored lovingly by conservation icon Aman Nath), inaugurated by the PM is a unique idea. Off Peddar Road, where many art and film icons stayed like late Lata tai and Asha tai or late Jagjit Singh, this road is amongst the most tony neighborhood of Mumbai. My eldest brother, then in Excise & Customs, lived there in Darbhanga House and I ate more lunches at Jagjit and Chitra Singh's house because they were home at day time and hospitable! Today Bombay is a mess, Bollywood, a mish-mash. They don't know if they are Indian or what is Indian! They copy the west in clothes, lifestyle and food so in a way they are saying Indian is not good enough for them?! They earn millions out of India (and Indians watching their films worldwide) but they are aping the West and selling those consumer goods. Wow! Some of the wide-eyed over-decked judges on reality shows with exaggerated costumes, shriek and shout if they see Kathakali or Chhau. They may not know Dollu Kunita from Dhola Maru... Cultural illiteracy is complete, thanks to Bollywood. Because it reaches millions, all innocent TV and film watchers think these people are brahma gyanis (a term I coined, like "fusion can cause confusion" or "dance matters" and now in other fields we have Art Matters or money matters!) for those opposite of it. An oxymoron.
Like saintly crook or an honest politician! Or, Solo dancer. Where? Today, there is only a handful. 30 years ago there were mostly solo dancers. Today, one in thousands. That's why a Yamini Krishnamurthy or Sonal Mansingh or Uma Sharma stood out, and considered stars. Nay, benchmarks. Before them were Indrani Rahman, Shanta Rao or Bala and Kamala or before them Ram Gopal or Uday Shankar. Somewhere in the 80s the art of group started. Birju Maharaj, who did solo, had to weave in students of Kathak Kendra for productions. Or Kalakshetra type institutions that prepared students and undertook dance dramas, which were always art of the group but today we see only groups. Poor excuse at cover up? Fact is: most dancers can't dance for an hour. They neither have stamina nor material. Their gurus are not real gurus, just teachers. Often, they teach items not art. The last generation of soloists were Valli, Sarabhai, Shovana and then Sujata or a Geeta. Add Rama, Aditi, Astad. Today, most dancers do group works. Easy for many practical reasons: students get accommodated (else pesky parents would complain "when will our ward get a chance to dance?") Teachers can show (off) their training standards and the organisers or audiences get variety. Some solo dancers can also be insufferable after one item - let's be honest - after the stardom is over. Then too, stages can be huge, to fill. Khajuraho or Konark, stadium or maidan.
But in all this, a good dancer is lost. That's why hats off to those very few young ones under 30 or 35 who keep to the course. Aishwarya Nityananda, Parshwanath Upadhyay, Rukmini Vijayakumar, Arushi Mudgal, Anuj Mishra or Sinam Basu (after marriage, some have to be kind to partners and include them on stage and thus lose the solo status).
Jena of Kathak is chosen as person for this column for being a solo dancer mostly but he created a spectacle with 500 dancers for the Opening Ceremony in a stadium for a party event. He did this with his guru Mysore Nagaraj in 5 days flat for The Khelo India programme that was introduced to revive the sports culture in India at the grass-root level by building a strong framework for all sports played in our country and establish India as a great sporting nation. As an extension of this programme, Khelo India University Games (KIUG), a national level multi-sport event, where athletes from universities across the country compete in different sports disciplines was conceptualized. The inaugural edition was held in Odisha in February - March 2020 as the largest university level sports competition in India. The second edition that had to take place in 2021 did not happen due to the pandemic, but happened in Karnataka, in April-May 2022 in Bangalore City and on the 3rd of May it witnessed a grand closing ceremony at the Kanteerava Indoor Stadium.
The short 10 minute feature brought on floor a fleeting glimpse of the various dance cultures of this country that would double up to represent different regions of India, where the art was patronized. To befit the platform nothing less than 500 artistes would do justice to encapsulate the different forms. 500 artistes, one means trained artistes in their respective forms, not randomly picked pigtailed school girls given crash course in Indian dance forms, made up the huge ensemble. 60 artistes each in Kuchipudi, Odissi, Mohiniattam, Kathak and Bharatanatyam styles and 100 artistes each in Yakshagana and Freestyle performed with no compromise to the grammar of the art form. Pleasantly surprising is the fact that Bangalore has diverging art forms nurtured and 500 artistes gathered in short notice and was a task that was herculean. The costumes and jewelry were authentic to the style giving a visual treat when all 500 assembled in the dance space creating a colorful and glittering mosaic. The dancers performed to a well-orchestrated musical recording from the archives of the trust, seamlessly linked to each style, as directed by renowned musician Praveen D Rao under the artistic direction of guru Mysore B Nagaraj. The signature music of Khelo India was played for the free style dance segment. Dr. Laxminarayan Jena and his team of Articulate Dance Studio volunteers coordinated the entire team, guided each group to weave itself into the canvas and brought out the beautiful tapestry that the sport enthusiasts watched live and through broad digital broadcast.
Same Jena had selflessly helped us with two good volunteers who were actually young dancers - Vaidegi and Madhu - for our World Dance Day and attenDance launch last month and it had just got over at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, when Jena got a call at night to get over 500 dancers together for a mega event 5 days later! To get 500 dancers, rehearse and look good was a prodigious task. One cannot get 100 dancers so easily, even if you pay. This is not Bollywood where there's a stable of trained "extras" or union of dancers or choreographers with huge "stock" like Saroj Khan (alas! no more), or Shiamak Davar, who have enough in their schools, to readily get on stage. This was Bangalore, lazy and languorous, so Laxminarayan Jena stands out for being a soloist, who under his mentor and guru Mysore Nagaraj could put together this spectacle. More power to such.
Khokar is a critic by profession, historian by education, administrator by experience, archivist by disposition and celebrator of art and artists by spirit.
Very good article. You have excellently commented about bolly natyam .. or bolly belly.. ! Some Bharatanatyam solo artists remain unknown, without opportunities, serve the society quietly by teaching the art. Group presentation is the only way to give good students an opportunity to improve themselves.
(May 30, 2022)
Good article. But it would be great if you would have mentioned the guru names who have been behind this. Yes, it is bolly natyam where free style is given lots of importance than the Indian classical.
- Kaousalya Nivaas (May 30, 2022)
Ashish ji ….such a true statement… Today there are rare solo dancers. The reasons given are also correct. I wonder, is there any good platform for a solo dancer? Are the organisers ready to give 1 hour for a solo dancer? Maybe yes but 1 in 100. Those who all want to learn and dance in this situation…. What would be your advice and should we not create next generation of dancers who will take forward the legacy...
(May 30, 2022)
Everything now is about being fast, flashy and furious. It is tiring to watch for long too!
I like your term brahma gyaanis.
- Gayathri (May 30, 2022)
Read your article... Very well narrated... specially the 3rd May event. Just wonder how you get to sit down for writing such absorbing articles one after the other. It is time you compile them all in the form of a book.
- V Shukla (May 29, 2022)
Ashish ji, your articles do not take you from point A to point B in one straight line. You take a circuitous route and that is what makes your articles lively and interesting. It also helps you treat the most serious topic with a lot of ease.
- Rakesh Ratti Kapoor (May 29, 2022)
Ashish's circuitous writings apart on an event wonderfully put together by Laxminarayan Jena, I am amazed at the ability of the artist to line up 500 dancers of various Naatya forms, that too in a short span of five days. Kudos to the creator, but also I wonder whether they were all properly and professionally remunerated?
- VP Dhananjayan (May 29, 2022)
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