August 15, 2023
August was like it rained dance, especially Kathak. Literally. In one week three mega events, with hundreds in attendance. Each hall full of Kathak adherents. Ticketed too, which even in Delhi or Lucknow or Jaipur - old addas of Kathak - doesn't happen nowadays. In Delhi, less than a hundred can be found in a hall (even small halls like the IIC, Triveni don't fill up). There are scanty audiences and few takers for ticketed shows. Not in South of the Vindhyas. Pune has more Kathak talents than Delhi and Bangalore has more Kathak teachers and students than even Pune, if an estimate were to be done. Add Chennai and Mumbai so the hegemony of North (in Kathak) is over! Dakshin Bharat has taken the only classical form from Central, West and North India - Kathak - and made it its own! That's the biggest news in Indian dance style of Kathak, in this century.
So there's a little temple town called Udupi in coastal Karnataka, near Mangalore, that's around 400 km from Bangalore. Udupi, most in rest of India relate with idli vada cuisine only. It is, but Udupi is home to Krishna Mutts, the Madhavacharya sect and holy temple town too. The Puttige Mutta swamiji was patron guest at Poornacharya's Prabalayam production, and showed how in South, Kathak is still a temple art, not darbar culture or kotha culture of yore. Lucknow or Bombay films also depicted it so. The popular imagery of Kathak is Pakeezah if not Devdas!
From that ignominy to bring the art form to high class settings, fine productions and aesthetics go to Pune first in the last fifty years and now to Dakshin Bharat, Bangalore and Chennai. Add off beat towns like Udupi.
Poornacharya's Prabalayam is a good example of how to make a meaningful offering by doing a production that engages all and also shares with public something new. The production talks of company one keeps and how good or bad company affects one's personality. If one keeps satvik company, one is kind and helpful. Rajasik nature leads to pomp and show and tamasic attributes leads to evil habits. It is being judgemental at one level but often faith begins where logic ends.
The hour long production tells the tale of two tamasic characters from mythology and epics, one of Hidimba and one of Kaikeyi. Hidimba starts off tamasic, attacking and eating animals and destroying her habitat but with good satvik influence she changes to a kind hearted person. There are very few temples in India dedicated to this wife of Bheema. Their son is Ghatotkach. I recall visiting in 1982/83 in Kulu-Manali a temple dedicated to Hidimba, built in the 15th century. It still exists.
Kaikeyi on the other hand is a rajasik character, a benevolent queen of Dasaratha, the king of Ayodhya. She loves Ram more than her own son Bharata but under the evil advise and influence of royal maid Manthra, she loses perspective and turns villain of the story causing exile to Ram and Sita for fourteen years and in the end, her own son Bharata hates her for that.
Poorna undertook both the contrasting roles convincingly and her shining red silver psychedelic costume of Hidimba made rock stars look poorly dressed! As Kaikeyi she was more down to earth and could show few dance portions too. Manthra as Bharata was good too but too close to the scenes so this characterisation by same able dancer (Chandana) didn't work, as audiences got confused that just now they saw this artiste as Manthra (not looking old enough!) and then in five minutes change, she was Bharata. Someone else should've done one of the two central roles.
Poornacharya undertakes one production a year and earlier work was on Jhansi ki Rani. She likes to focus on women centric roles, hence Hidimba and Kaikeyi this time. On the whole the production gets good marks. Pity the music was too loud, the show started half hour late. Bangalore audiences are too shy and polite, as no one stood up or pointed out to the organisers so the sound could be reduced. Ravindra Kalakshetra is a sarkari hall so the staff doesn't care. Like most govt jobs they don't have to really work to justify their salaries! There was no ventilation for most of the evening as the AC was off and even the fans were started 30 minutes into the evening - pure suffocation for the 500 in the hall. Also, a half an hour late start of a very ordinary Hindustani student-level music offering, vocals by kids and tabla by youth was not welcome. The sole saving grace sound wise, was the soothing voice of dancer- compere Smita Srinivasan who conducted the whole evening with grace and dignity and a smiling face despite all that went on in the wings and some on the stage.
Stage was set and how! Grand, huge banners and all, floral design on stage with golden sets. Jazzy. All for the Manchapravesh or debut of Mayuki Gupta. A teenage student of handsome couple of Kathak, Tushar and Pooja Bhatt, both of whom look like film stars themselves. Both have presence. Their ward, Mayuki stood tall and displayed good foundation that could not escape balletic postures and use of limbs. Her baby steps in dance world were full of dedication and commitment and the grand New Horizon college campus venue made it a starry event. Live music team flown in from Delhi - each one a proficient in chosen medium - made for a memorable melody, finely tuned and balanced. Mayuki loves filmy postures and the Shreya Ghoshal song with bols of Birju Maharaj established her preponderance for it. Rest of the evening was pure traditional fare of toda, tatkar tukre and a Meera bhajan. The compere Uma Lakshmi Rajashekharan looked like a junior MS amma, mukuthi (nose ring) and all and conducted the proceedings very artistically, with each word enunciated clearly. In the end, Amir Khusro won the audience over, which gave a standing ovation. All in all, a good family time was had by all. The Gupta family pulled out all stops to put their best foot forward and a befitting farewell gift to this talent going to Bloomington, Indiana, USA soon for higher education.
Chinna Kalanadam fest
Education and arts - How to merge together and showcase? The school load is so much these days that a child cannot pursue any hobby of interest. How do parents manage? With their own jobs too. Super humans. Super kids all. NADAM takes upon itself to present each year a few really gifted ones, through the Chinna Kalanadam festival every August. Now in its 15th year, over a hundred talents participated in a weekend festival, all under 13 in age. Some real tiny tots, some almost mature. Most popular forms get covered and upcoming teachers get to show their wards. Problem is of plenty. Teachers want to show the whole class and not best two or four or so. Nadam has created a meaningful platform for upcoming ones, hence standards need to be maintained. Maybe audition beforehand is a good way out. Audiences are not dumb; one can see through who got the loudest claps (for soloist Aditya Nataraj) and who, muted. In the end, reputation is earned over a period of time and body of work and easy to lose in a day.
On day one, Sonalika Purohit and Deepa Krishnamurthy established their top credentials as good teachers. Their students did them proud. Also, Kanakalatha Raghavan and Bhargavi Gowtham showcased able wards. Children who learn dance may not always become professional or stars but will still benefit by learning mythology, team work, discipline and aesthetics, through dance. Most kids looked happy wearing costumes and jewellery. At least they acquire some art this way. Chitra Arvind's students showed proficiency in Kathak. Contemporary was best left alone! The Ravindra Kalakshetra hall fan made so much noise that even the announcement could barely be deciphered! Guru Nandini Mehta and team put their best foot forward in service to dance.
Critic, connoisseur, historian, author, artivist, archivist, administrator and more - editor, columnist and mentor Ashish Khokar remains true to his muse.
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Thank you so much, Ashish ji, for the thoughtful and insightful review of Prabalyam. I am grateful and appreciative for the time and effort you invested in understanding and interpreting my work . Your constructive insights will guide me in my future projects.
Poorna Acharya (Aug 24, 2023)
Creativity is the meaning of innovation. I truly appreciate the detailed information on such ballets. Hidimba holds a role of sacrifice and determination in relationships which is a beautiful part of Mahabharata. Rest all are wonderful. Thank you, Ashish Sir, for writing it so beautifully.
- Nancy Sahu (Aug 18, 2023)
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