Orissi by Sharmila Mukherjee
- Ashish Mohan Khokar, Bangalore 
e-mail: khokar1960@gmail.com 
August 21, 2009 

In Bangalore, there are very few Orissi dancers left. Uday Shetty was the senior most, having learnt directly from Kelubabu when Protima the maverick, came to Bangalore, in the mid-eighties and set up her jungle ranch, Nrityagram. Uday was an accomplished Orissi dancer but not seen much in last decade and today he brings out a tabloid art journal in Kannada and teaches dance. He has put on weight and sprouts a fashionable pony-tail. 
Protima's dream - Nrityagram - which we all enthusiastically supported when it started and continued to do so even after her, has now turned into a virtual reality, with Nrityagram girls generally busy with long tours in the USA.
In Bangalore today, thus, Kelubabu brand of Orissi is left to one individual: Sharmila Mukherjee. This quiet Calcutta talent has made her presence felt with her consistency and dedication to the cause of Orissi. She has succeeded in establishing herself as a dancer of note. At first glance, on stage, her overall appeal is that of smaller version of Protima and a bigger version of Madhavi Mudgal. There is something about her face that is Protima-ish, same honesty and open-ness and something about her controlled, internalised dance, that is Madhavish. This is not altogether inescapable as she is a product of their guru Kelucharan Mahapatra. But there the similarities end, for, once when she dances, she is her own and has enough staying power to last an evening of solo dance.

Beginning with Mangalacharan as an ode of Shiva (as a stuti), her most fetching item after her self-composed Pallavi was the abhinaya piece on Krishna in which in the end she uses the same cameo veteran MK Saroja used once for Krishna. Generally, once mother Yashoda has somehow put baby Krishna to sleep, she exits and audiences naturally clap. I recall in the mid-eighties, Saroja-ji, came back from the wings when audiences clapped and did, 'Ssshhhh! Baby Krishna is sleeping! Don't wake him up with you clapping gesture' and that was the first time ever it was done or thought of. Since then many Bharatanatyam dancers (I saw Urmila Satyanarayanan in Malaysia doing that) have woven that in their narrative and it is an instant hit with the audiences because it is like a play within a play.
Sharmila looks mature, is sincere and is focussed about her art and is helping further it in the wilderness of Bangalore. The traffic for sure makes this a wild city!
I must complement Mysore B Nagaraj for both his conduct on stage at a previous show where he proved to be a first-rate compere, doing deliveries with élan and later, I read his review on narthaki. Well-written and perfectly etched! Did not know, he was so gifted in so many art forms because he is originally a first-rate Bharatanatyam dancer too. In his case, Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' comes to mind... Full many a gem lay unseen...... hidden in Bangalore! No wonder, Bangalore is simply beautiful and its dancers, a delight. They are genuine, warm and not so pushy as in other cities, where survival is the main theme. Bangalore believes in live and let live! Long live Bangalore! 

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed authority on Indian dance, has many books to his credit and edits and publishes India's only yearbook on dance, attendance.