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Kathakali dancer Prabal Gupta is no more
- Ashish Mohan Khokar

November 16, 2023

Prabal Gupta

He died many times on stage, doing Putana Moksham or some such female centric role in Kathakali but that he really died on 14 November 2023 at just about 45 years of age is shocking to most in the dance field.

Cause of dance without a pause -- that was his life. He was like, possessed. A boy from Bengal with big, bulging eyes and bigger ambition to succeed in the dance field, he first learnt Kathakali from Fact Padmanabhan and then attached himself to Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan in Chennai. He settled in Bangalore a decade plus ago and was a very dedicated artiste. He also wrote on dance initially for The Hindu ten plus years ago and got attention and importance but soon realised the flip side that his art suffered by giving reviews to others and that he won no friends or shows. So he stopped writing and focussed all out on dancing. He wrote for Ananya's art magazine Kalasinchana too.

Prabal Gupta

He was very motivated. He could pursue an organiser till he had his way, got a show or more. Most ordinary folks fell for his badgering and gave in. He never took no for an answer. Maybe God had a plan. That's why he was in a hurry to grab all and make a mark. He perhaps wanted to compress a lifetime into a short one. He also craved for some official recognition but got none. He was a go-getter and always on the prowl for new opportunities to dance. He tried to top his learning with workshops but his solo stree vesham shows didn't really win new audiences. His art was limited even if his ideas were not.

Scripted and directed by Anoop Rajan Thomas, a documentary film was made on him and a well-known Delhi publisher of dance books - Shubhi - has just published his book recently. Ideally, Prabal should have settled abroad as he had no family or encumbrances here. It seems his family was well off - he claimed zamindar background and they had disowned him for doing dance. It could be an urban myth he himself created to get press or shows/sympathy or both. He had inborn acumen at surviving that comes from not having enough in life. He also tried choreographing and did work on a few themes like Chitrangada, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra and Dakshathwaradamsanam. Basically it was to position routine stree vesham roles into modern, contemporary slots as how much of Kathakali solos can audience see?

Prabal Gupta

He will be remembered as an active Kathakali dancer whose end came too soon. His death also showed there's an active dance fraternity in Bangalore which helps those who have made this city their home. Guru Veena Murthy is spear-heading through her WDA, a fund for logistical needs, if any. Devjani Sen, a fellow Bengali dancer settled in Bangalore, was on her way to meet him in hospital when his end came just hours before. He was akin to a pesky child at heart and so went away on Children's Day, ie, 14 November. May his soul rest in peace. Up there too, he must be creating a storm and asking Indra or Bharatmuni to give him a show! Dance on, Prabal.

PS: Prathibha Prahlad informs that SNA under chair Sandhya Purecha has decided to underwrite all expenses related with Prabalís hospitalisation and final journey that WDA (World Dance Alliance headed by Veena Murthy Vijay) incurred. Imran, the better half of Orissi dancer Madhulita Mohapatra, did much for police clearance, releasing Prabal's remains from the hospital and taking care of many logistics.

Ashish Mohan Khokar
Critic, connoisseur, historian, author, artivist, archivist, administrator and more - editor, columnist and mentor Ashish Khokar remains true to his muse.
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