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A tale of two cities and more!

September 4, 2019

August brought flood and fury - not just the real watery one but the metaphorical one too. The anger against the Sangeet Natak Akademi awards this year resonated in magazines, editorials (including in narthaki) and of course on the social media. Representations were made to Minister of Culture in Delhi and the Secretary Culture too. Let's hope something concrete comes of all this complaining. Let's also understand, in India, no awards list is infallible or final. There'd be always nazarbattus! Or the names on lists will have lacunae and loopholes.

Should we scrap state awards altogether? Or put a stop for a few years? In the meantime, reassess and revitalise the process. According to me, the problem starts at the outset when a candidate's bio data is sought by those recommending him or her. As a national akademi, SNA should have the bio datas of all who matter, for the minute a person's bio data is sought the candidate starts canvassing.

Of course, these days most canvass, nay pester, earlier awardees to nominate them. Nomination should be secret. Those in the running should not even know. Simple. We Indians have found ways to beat the system to allow for corruption. In this simple case of awards processing, this can easily be rectified. All nominations must happen in complete secrecy. Period. Let SNA do some work and collect the resumes from state akademis or the zonal centres. What's the big deal?

Rathna (Papa) Kumar is a big deal - a senior, mega talent, unfortunately settled in US of A! Unfortunate, or else she would have given good competition to the 1980s lot of clinical, sterile, pasty-faced, expressionless dancers of India - especially Bharatanatyam. For those who became or positioned themselves as stars and spokespersons in mid 1980s onwards, some even got Padma Shris at that young age, were actually mere shell of dancers. They didn't know much about the 3S: Sangeet, Shastra and Sahitya. Some Bombay born, Madras trained or Delhi based ones even didn't know Tamil, Sanskrit or Telugu, in which Bharatanatyam as a form is essentially anchored. They just knew key babus in Delhi or Madras and climbed up while Rathna shuttled to USA and settled in Houston.

She is queen bee of that area, reaching out and teaching many, including at the Rice University. Thus, her short show in beginning of August at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai, for ABHAI's Pravasi Utsav, brought out rare gems of Vazhuvoor bani and her own efforts at meaningful interventions and explorations. Her mother Vinjamuri Anasuya Devi was a great beauty and singer of her times. Rathna regaled the jaded Chennai audience with some choice items, keeping in mind her bodily possibilities. As a senior, there is no need to impress with circus like feats and jumping and covering the stage, senselessly. Her dance was centered. Her art is now a reference point in art. There was repose, reflection and refinement. As her performance has been covered at length here by a fellow columnist, no point in adding to it but suffice it to say more Indians should learn from such seasoned and complete artistes, in order to enrich themselves and their repertoires.

Rathna Kumar

Shama Bhate
Elsewhere in Pune, Kathak was to be focus of a seminar but was called off as many main star folks couldn't attend and floods laid all plans asunder. So Pune's best aesthete, choreographer and guru Shama Bhate came to Bangalore courtesy Anjana Gupta, a senior talent of guru Chitra Venugopal, sister of legendary Maya Rao. Guru Shama Bhate is a much sought after teacher - direct, easy, sensible and accessible. Her lecture on changes in Kathak in last 50 to 75 years was interesting. Accompanied by her pet student Ameera Patankar who illustrated some portions, Bhate unfolded the changes that have crept in. Gaze was one - the angle of it. Gait - the speed of it. Guru - contours of changes in teaching. It was a memorable gathering, genuine and cozy.


Grand was Tushar and Puja Bhatt's annual offering by Kathakaar. Nearly 50 bright talents ranging from age 5 to 50, shared with a 500 strong audience the thrills of dancing with joy and happiness. Items like Ghoomar and Sampoorna Darshan stood out. Excellent costumes and superb lighting regaled audiences. Tushar and Puja Bhatt have arrived seriously as teachers and as a creative couple. They didn't dance themselves and that showed they are secure inside out, not needing to project themselves in their own festival. This is a common affliction many dancers suffer from, while organizing their own events or festivals.

The dance season hasn't even begun seriously and yet many festivals abound in many cities. Madhulita Mohapatra mounted her tenth anniversary of Naman. However, putting 14 guests of honor on stage looked like one too many and more a PR exercise! Dancing by her team was coordinated on an unusual theme scripted by Kedar Mishra, the only real critic- poet of Odisha, who calls a spade a spade. The tale of star crossed lovers is apt fodder for Dubai/Muscat circuit. Paridhi Joshi outdid herself and Madhulita was in her element. She has arrived nationally in more ways than one. The SNA's Bismillah Award is hers too now. Next, Aruna Mohanty's group offering was more a tourism mela themed number. Tailor made for abroad. Too many ideas were mish-mashed together in too short a time, like Dalma dish of Odisha. Her dance team had an uneven quality, even if the gotipua boys won everyone's hearts. Just 45 minutes seemed insufficient time to develop this theme properly.

The last offering in the evening was by Sharmila Mukerjee's students whose offering was sadly, ordinary and unsuitable for the occasion. There was no logic or prior thinking in doing an ordinary pallavi by a group of unevenly talented students. If Madhulita was doing them an honor by putting them in this festival, then they should've performed first. Coming in the end after two strong theme-based productions, this ordinary offering naturally looked pale in comparison. A good platform and opportunity wasted.

Sanjukta Panigrahi

Odissi is no more what one saw in the first leading lights of the form. Indrani Rahman was its first star, Yamini Krishnamurthy next, followed by Ritha Devi. But all the three luminaries of the form were from outside of Odisha. The first from Odisha to glow and gain prominence was the one and only Sanjukta Panigrahi, who died too young. Her sons and admirers celebrated her 75th birth anniversary on August 24 by a festival. Elsewhere, Saroja Vaidyanathan danced with her 100 students in Delhi.

Dance is increasingly becoming an instant fix. That thehraav, the repose is often missing. Young dancers are performing here, there, everywhere, as if quantity sanctifies. But perhaps it's a necessary process to go through. At the end of such a long journey, hope wisdom prevails!

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed author, arts administrator, historian, critic with many published books and edits India's only yearbook attenDance. He is now helping the IGNCA, Delhi, set up the Mohan Khokar Dance Archives-cum-Museum.

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