Amrita’s artistry 
- A Seshan, Mumbai 
Photos: Prasanna 

February 14, 2010 

The Kala Ghoda Art Festival is a popular annual event in winter in the Fort area of Mumbai. There are varieties of events – exhibitions (both indoor and outdoor), workshops, films, fashion, food, merchandise, street theatre, readings, seminars, lectures, demonstrations, debates, music, dance, heritage walk, etc. However, due to police restrictions necessitated by the area being in  a silence zone, the event is less boisterous and closes earlier than before.  Kala Ghoda ("dark horse") refers to the equestrian statue of King Edward VII, which once stood on Mahatma Gandhi Road, formerly Esplanade Road, in the so-called Fort area in Mumbai. The fort no longer exists except for some vestiges. By a happy coincidence, in a one-square kilometre area around the place, where the statue once stood, a number of art galleries, museums, educational institutions, restaurants, book shops, music shops, libraries and entertainment centres have come into existence over the years. There are also a number of heritage buildings in the locality.  

The area, which is bounded by Shyama Prasad Mukherji Chowk near Regal Cinema on the south, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Museum) on the north, Mahatma Gandhi Road on the west and the Lion Gate of the Navy on the east, is a beehive of activities of the young and the old, the cognoscenti and the common man. To mobilise their support for the worthy cause of preserving the arts of India and the heritage buildings in the locality and with a view to making it the Art District of the city, The Kala Ghoda Association was formed in October 1998 by a group of civic-minded volunteers many of whom are prominent individuals known for their contribution to enriching the quality of life in the city. The Art Festival is one of the major activities of the Association undertaken every year with the help of Government of India and many individuals and institutions. The nine-day festival is held this year during February 6-14, 2010.  

Amrita Lahiri, a leading Kuchipudi artiste of the younger generation, presented a programme at the festival for about 45 minutes on the evening on February 9. She has had training in Kuchipudi under Anuradha Nehru (Washington, DC), a student of Vempati Chinna Satyam, Swapnasundari (Delhi), and Kishore Mosalikanti (Chennai). She has also had the benefit of studying Bharatanatyam under Leela Samson and performing with her while living in Delhi. 

Amrita  launched her performance with the Natesa Kautuvam in Hamsadhwani (Adi), choreographed by Vempati. There was a melodious play of tanam on the veena by way of introduction and a plethora of brahmari bhedas, utplavanas and vigorous charis portraying the tandava of Lord Nataraja in his several poses. One was impressed by her effortless and quickly executed muzhu mandi reflecting her professional expertise. There were some karanas like bhujangathrasitha and vivarthitham and attractive adugulus in this and the subsequent item.  

The next item was a rarely heard or seen Shiva Tarangam from Shri Krishna Leela Tarangini, choreographed by Kishore Mosalikanti. Set to Adi tala, it was a Ragamalikai  in the evocative ragas of Latangi, Nagaswarali, Amritavarshini and Saurashtram. After an obeisance to Shiva praising his qualities and describing him as one who embodied all the five elements of nature, the dance recalled the story of the Ganga descending from the heavens thanks to the penance of Bhagiratha who wanted the river to wash away the ashes (and sins) of his ancestors cursed by a great Rishi. It concluded with a joyous dance of Shiva. The final verse was choreographed with rhythmic patterns/ jatis on the brass plate, typical of Kuchipudi. Amrita’s introductory explanation of the story with suitable hasta mudras helped the vast audience in the open amphitheatre to follow the story as it evolved on the stage.  The recitation of jatis was vigorous and Amrita measured up to keeping the kalapramanam and landing on samam at appropriate places. "Siva Siva Bhava Bhava" and "Ananda Natana Vinodha" were two lines on which good sancharis were done. The climax was the traditional Tarangam  on a brass plate with the feet of the dancer on its edges. There was no faltering at any moment and it was a classic performance. There was an occasional suddha nrittam danced to percussion after the jatis were recited. There was also dancing only to the strains of veena that was a novelty not seen often. The piece ended symbolically and imaginatively in a climax with a Siva Linga samyuta hasta mudra followed by the right hand in sikhara hasta moving from the left palm with the thumb bending downwards representing the flow of the river from the matted locks of Shiva.  

The programme concluded with a tillana in Behag in Adi composed by Balamurali Krishna and choreographed by Kishore Mosalikanti. The movements of the torso, feet and head were in the standard mode and it ended dramatically with a statuesque pose. Amrita’s artistry was evident throughout in that she could give a thoroughly professional performance within a short period. The amphitheatre was full.  
The dance was to recorded music which was melodious. The members of the orchestra were Kuldeep Pai (vocal), Kishore Mosalikanti (nattuvangam) BP Haribabu (mridangam), Bhavani Prasad (veena) and Muthukumar (flute). 

Amrita informed me that she is now settled in Mumbai having shifted from Chennai. One hopes the dance institutions in the city would take advantage of her stay to present her in full-fledged programmes, lecture demonstrations and dance workshops. The National Centre for the Performing Arts is arranging her Classical Dance Workshop entitled 'Joy of Movement' (March 15-20, 2010) for children aged 7-14 years to introduce them to Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam. 

The author, an Economic Consultant in Mumbai, is a music and dance buff.