Josh and Joshi; Shruti and Smriti
November 8, 2022
Natya is an all encompassing art. It partakes of drama, of course, dance, music and literature. NSD or National School of Drama is the epicentre of post- independence theatre training and movement. The great Ebrahim Alkazi gave it leadership, when it delinked from the SNA in the mid 1970s. I recall those days and times, when at helm of SNA, my father had great friendship with Alkazi sahib and yet they had to fight for a cause! Pula (Deshpande) often stayed with us when he would come from Pune or Bombay those days to attend SNA meetings. There were a few hotels but he had bonds with our family from Baroda days of the 1960s. Even when NSD delinked from SNA, Alkazi sahib kept his friendship with Mohan ji. Those days, people kept the personal away from the professional. Mutual respect was there for work, not judgeMENTAL attitude!
Dr. Sachchidanand Joshi at NSD
So it was nice to return to NSD after years. The occasion was Shruti, a master lecture series NSD revived post Corona days. There was a lot of josh as Joshi ji (theatre man, story-teller, writer, thinker and second term boss of IGNCA) spoke on the inter-connectedness of the arts. Being a sahradayi, an observant man, he spoke of daily routines that have rhythm -- like while making rotis the sound of bangles on the skillet or during a morning walk where birds talk and sing or in the evenings, where laughter of children filled the air. Theatre is, he shared, a lived experience after all. It is life manifested on stage. What's theatre but imagination set in reality; emotions shared with humans and experiences narrated, artistically.
He had the NSD hall eating out of his very elegant fingers. No rings on it. Just a plain, hard working hand which has wielded the pen and written 5 literary books in 3 years and 2 more are underway. This, in addition to running a full-time institution like the IGNCA with 300 plus staff and almost a dozen regional centres. The man has josh. He inspires and perspires for the arts and culture.
Shruti is an ongoing initiative of the NSD, curtailed during the Covid times but back with a bang and how. Its active director Dr. Ramesh Chandra Gaur has activated the place that was moribund last many years. He brings dynamism to the august body.
Leela Samson, Madhavi Mudgal and Alarmel Valli
Dynamic dancers are now coming out of impasse created by the C19, onto the stage. Aditi Mangaldas was seen 4 times in one month in Delhi alone: Leela Samson thrice and Malavika Sarukkai twice. It was a rarest of rare event to see top three stars - Alarmel Valli, Madhavi Mudgal and Leela Samson - dance for Saroja Mohanam, already covered earlier in this forum, so I'm not elaborating here. (The function can be viewed here)
Of course others followed suit in other cities. Laxminarayan Jena, that bright youth of Kathak, danced at the NGMA, Bangalore, in a well-planned and executed evening conducted and compered by his guru Mysore Nagaraj. Each item was danced with energy and aplomb. His hastas are beautifully etched and hand proportions are perfect for dance. Supple. There's grace in wrist and hand movement alone. Most Kathak dancers focus on footwork, often forgetting hands are important too! Costume change broke the sameness of the first half, visually. Dancing Kathak to Kannada songs may be a novelty but not necessary, unless done to win more audiences for the art form, within Karnataka.
The ICCR Horizon series gives empanelled artistes a good platform. Or Paavani and Bhavana of Nadam at Neemrana. Neemrana and now its latest sibling, Tijara, present dance each Saturday for 6 months. That's 26 X2 venues=52 shows in half a year! All because the chairman of the Neemrana group loves dance and learnt both Kathak and Bharatanatyam too. Neemrana group of heritage hotels offer the best of India's talent have a chance to dance. As co-chairman of the selection committee, I try and find genuine dancers from all over India, so Delhi alone, owing to proximity doesn't benefit. Pune, Ahemdabad, Chennai, Odisha, Bangalore, Kolkata, Jaipur, Hyderabad, even Punjab and MP, UP or UK (that's Uttarakhand, not UK of Rishi Sunak fame!) dancers have been featured, making it truly national. During the two years of the pandemic, when dancers hardly earned much and performed virtually most of the time to keep busy or relevant, then Neemrana group was among the only that gave "employment" to dancers. Neemrana group have made dance and dancers reach out nationally in a meaningful way.
Guru Shama Bhate
Class at Nad Roop
National outreach Pune dance work needs. Best of music is here, and best of Kathak beyond Delhi. Pune looks aloof artistically but actually it is about self respect. They are not greedy or needy. They are happy with their muse. They have an academic quality and approach. Attending Nad Roop's class, one could see the josh in students of guru Shama Bhate. It is also amazing that one boy Pramod left home in small town Dhule to come to big town Pune, the cultural capital of Maharashtra. For what? To learn Kathak. Another girl came from Nanded. A third from Jalgaon. Shraddha Mukhade, whose father is a well known tabla player shows lots of potential. Bhargavi is ready for solo dancing. What's amazing is how much aturta (enthusiasm) they have to learn dance. This is a happy sign. Such students deserve scholarships, CCRT or others. Those with fire in their belly need to be encouraged. Guru Shama Bhate's heart is in art. That's why her work is deep, aesthetic and sincere. Her choreography is original. Her approach to teaching also is unique as she sees patrata (ability to learn and absorb), then teaches accordingly. Even in a group class, she is sharp to spot a wrong foot/work. Not just assembly line but each one gets attention and focus. It is nice to sometimes see the process of dance. How one becomes a dancer, the daily grind, the hardships, the struggle. It teaches us humility. And we see how system of patronage is delivering. How a nation like India, with 28 States and 8 union territories (bigger than European schengen countries which is a union of 26 countries) is addressing culture.
Culture and policy... do we need one? Smriti (memory/history/ remembering) is needed. To remember what we were and where we are coming from. Who can remember? Who are the cultural leaders and who are the reps who speak for the field, not just themselves? Where are nishpaksh (neutral) judges or arbitrators of good art? Who decides who gets a national award?
It is time, post Covid, we all got together to help build the nation's culture pride and place.
Ashish Mohan Khokar is a senior critic, author, historian, archivist and an artivist. Active in mainstream media in last 40 years of writing, teaching, filming, mentoring makes him an original voice in dance documentation field. He is devoted to Indian dance.
These articles are indeed a gateway to Indian dance. An interesting learning experience to see what cities in our country are offering. Lack of any coverage on television makes these articles so much more precious.
- Anuradha Narayan (Nov 16, 2022)
Dance is a mystical interweave of the soul's yearning to fly gracefully, in a physical body!
- Hemma Myers Sood (Nov 10, 2022)
Very descriptive canvas of art and dance captured by Ashish-ji . Kudos to the eminent artists to have come on stage and shown the path forward.
- Yogesh Negi (Nov 9, 2022)
Amazingly covered length and breadth of the country, art forms and artists.
- Murali Mohan Kalvakalva (Nov 9, 2022)
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