Kelubabu Award turns 16!
- Ashish Mohan Khokar, Bangalore
Photos: Arbind Mahapatra

September 15, 2010

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra turned 16 last week. The Award instituted in his memory, that is! His vast circle of family and friends, shishyas and sarthis, all epic-centered in his son Ratikant babu (for those south of the Vindhyas and west of the Bhubaneswar-Bengal belt, the word babu means someone older or younger, called with respectful affection. It means Dear Sir, so though of different ages, it applies to Kelubabu and Ratibabu). Ratikant babu's efforts to propitiate his father's memory, through an honour that means a lot in the field of Orissi performing arts, has come to symbolize excellence and expertise.

Poets have sung peans to sweet sixteen, although kids start earlier nowadays! For this Award to turn 16 means conviction, consistency and concurrence. Given each year to coincide appropriately with Teacher's Day (5th Sept), this honour goes to two or more connected with Oriya music, dance, theatre and cinema. This year too was no exception and we had two senior and deserving candidates receiving the Award for music (Prof. Mohini Mohan Patnaik) and costumes/aharya (Bhagirathi Das).

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik honors
musician Prof. Mohini Mohan Patnaik
Naveen Patnaik honors
Bhagirathi Das for Odissi costume designs
Upon arrival in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa, one is met with the highly amiable and affable Ratikant babu, who all through the 5 day marathon Festival, remains unfazed, unruffled and unstressed. He personally receives most artistes at the Biju Patnaik airport. Together with Millu (model material and artiste in tow) they swiftly transport the artistes to their abodes.

Day One opens to a grandly decorated Rabindra Mandap, looking like a wedding hall, with lights and all. Ratikant & Co. have a flair for making ordinary arrivals ceremonial (!), to make each guest feel very special like a VIP. I'm told Bhubaneswar denizens suffer from being-in-the-first-row complex culture. We humbly try to take to the 2nd row (critics in Delhi, Bangalore, Madras and most metros always take to the 2nd row as it affords a vantage point to see all in action, as there is much socialising and ji-huzoori going on in the first row, without having to get close or involved in any. A critic must keep neutral distance and not be taken to be a PR agent.). In any case, how many VIPs can the 10 centre first row seats accommodate?

Ileana Citaristi
Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma
Ileana Citaristi opened the 5 day festival and her choice and inclusion is understandable, owing to her sincerity to her style (of Kelubabu); her closeness to her guru's family (having written his bio some years ago) and her commitment to Indian dance. Yet, her Orissi is rather blank and bland. There is no range or feel and all items rendered look the same! Often she mixes Chhau with Orissi. Is this the best of Orissi in Orissa to be showcased on the opening night? Fortunately, master of Santoor strings, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, takes the opening evening to where it should be: on a high note.

Next day features Malavika Sarukkai, whose dance has grown and become resplendent with many a fleeting moods. Malavika Sarukkai is looking spiffier and dancing younger! She has a new found energy, even if the strain of doing so is showing on her but there was a new spark in her dance. She tried to make the evening special and succeeded in investing a lot of energy in her dance, which always has been known for its technique, but now, her face is busý too, often combining the emotive range of a Shobana (the actress), with the spontaneity of a Valli (the diva).

Shubha Mudgal has grown as an artiste and her voice remains distinctly her own, deep, bold and strong. She is serenely involved with her music and remains steadfast in her muse. She sang without minding the glare of all hall lights left on by a dysfuntional lightsman! It was very disturbing to sit with all hall lights on for the audience too. Some problem with the control board led to this, it seems, though it was not the case on the first day when Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma played.

Malavika Sarukkai
Shubha Mudgal
Aditi Mangaldas
GS Rajan
Day 3: Aditi Mangaldas is what one would say a 'thinking dancer' (as if others don't think!). She makes ordinary Kathak fare extraordinary. The same basic content manifests in new treatment and thus we have a meaningful evening based on Sufism and Amir Khusrau. What's same? Kathak starts with todde, tatkar, gat-bhavs and all…she does these, weaving in a theme and as is the tradition, speaks too, but in context of her work. She manages to create anew. Blurred mikes make her barely audible but her art reaches all. Her costumes are fetching, her musicians superb even if pakhawaj is subdued by the heavy handedness (and weight, of the tabla player). GS Rajan next takes to raga music and here's one performer who is pure genius player and few know, an excellent composer too. He is a talent to watch. In Krishna nee begane baro, the audience involvement was for all to see. He was ably supported by his son Krishna.
Astad Deboo
On Day 4, we have Astad Deboo, off to a bad-mood start, as local photographers clamber near the stage to get images of this wonder boy of modern dance. Astad is our senior-most modern dancer and one of the only two real ones, the other being Daksha Sheth. Let me explain what that means. Most contemporary dancers have not found a dance language of their own, and are using jod-mod-tod of a form, be it Bharatanatyam, Kathak or Kalari, Chhau and even Manipuri. What is modern dance in the context of Indian dance? It is about using Indian dance motifs to create a non-classical language that still contains Indian elements. Difficult? Uday Shankar did it 60 years ago! Astad is the present answer. He is a lone ranger; his dance is his own. It is easy to invest motion in dance but difficult to make movement freeze. Astad has devised a slow motion style that is easy to look at but very difficult to do as each movement is split second precise. He specialises in bringing out the depth of dance with his new minimalism and costumes that are a designer's delight. On this evening, he presented 'Aahavan,' 'Stepping Out' and 'Every fragment of dust is awakened.' The standing ovation he received proved his popularity.

Bhubaneswar audience is extremely involved in such events. The hall was overflowing and the many admirers and fans clamoured to get darshan of the stars that descended on the city. Most members touched feet and paid genuine regards. The local talents were in full attendance. It was good to see a smattering of gurus, stars, students, media and the men and women who make the Oriyan society.

Last day, the grand spectacle of music and dance, unfolds. For some time now, I've been trying to find and look for a good Orissi ensemble work. Kiran Segal in Delhi was making some efforts but doesn't have a big group. Ratikant babu has succeeded to fill this slot now, and ably so. The 45 minute production Tantra is an amazing composition, even if a bit pedestrian; with Tantric priest cameos and all. Classical Indian dance delights in art of suggestions; to make real depictions robs it of its surprise. The opening sequence was magical, effective and evocative, almost akin to Uday Shankar's Labour and Machinery sequence. The silver outline of black costumes glows in neon blue strobe light. The audience claps in delight! The entire production needs a little pruning and enhancements (the three Devis/Shaktis look sweetly under-aged and undernourished). Sujata Mohapatra is seen very briefly, although her over-full hair attachments are everywhere! After the opening sequence, all group dances look similar. Ratikant babu would do well to use 2 or 4 (even 6 or 8) of the dancers, but not all the dancers in the group and in all the sequences. That would provide relief to the artists and the audience besides a refreshing change of scene on stage. Ratikant babu invests energy and spectacle in this work and this is a good item for any occasion, any festival, especially for bigger spaces like Khajuraho, Konark or even abroad. Excellent music by Laxmikant Palit and superb lights by Jayadeva (not of Geeta Govinda fame!) add to its beauty. Ratikant babu does not participate on stage, though the role of priest would sit very well on him. Aditya Mahapatra's commentary was like that of Discovery Channel; deep, mellifluous and perfect.
Tantra by artistes of Srjan
Dr. L Subramaniam & group
Dr L. Subramaniam, maestro and music wonder man, concluded the festival with son Ambi and Moorsing Satya supporting him. The Festival ends on a high note. Five days have gone by. Except for the weak and insipid start provided by Illeana, there were no dull moments. Having seen Vinayakram and son Mahesh often in Chennai season (I heard from fellow writers next day that their music was steeped in devotion), I divert to attend Sanjukta Panigrahi's elder son, Parthasarthy's “Baboo” concert at a Tata subsidiary factory function, hosted at Amrapalli resort, some 30 km away and what a night it turns out to be! His voice is better than the originals sung by Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali. His group is first rate and his team better than any Bombay (Mumbai!) band. As we drive back at 3 in the morning, it is raining cats and dogs and we have Hariharan playing in car and the entire night is magical. Perhaps, surreal. One returns from Odisha soaked up in beauty of our arts.

Meeting senior Orissa dancer-researcher Kumkum Mohanty and visiting the home of Adiguru Pankaj Charan Das, the fountainhead of Orissi, and talking to younger Gurus and teachers Gajendra Panda, Sarat babu and Aruna Mohanty, is invigorating. A day trip to see the new Natya Mandap, built painstakingly by Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, a kilometer before the real Konark, is an eye opener. Son Shibu is trying to brand and market it with modern means, although the reputation of both the Guru and the new Natya Mandap festival, now in its 25th year, is well established.
Ratikant babu manages this entire five day arts marathon with just a handful of volunteers like omnipresent Tikki; guest volunteer from Mumbai, Rohan, (Jhelum Paranjape's student) and a tall, pony tailed son of a musician, also called Millu! The media comes and covers in full force and nearly every day there is a handsome coverage in the local press. Arbind Mohapatra documents the entire festival until we leave at the airport!!!

Odisha is happening and how! Its new Secretary for Culture and Tourism is a gentleman IAS, very informed and aware, named after a musical instrument 'Sarangi'. Its Culture Minister wears the most elegant shirts and its Chief Minister, Naveen babu is the epitome of good taste and manners. He came quietly, made no long speeches and left as quietly. In the end, all pay homage to the grand master of Orissi, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. Jai Jagannanath!

Ashish Mohan Khokar travels all over India and brings to note dancers of merit, through his writings, columns and yearbook, attendance. India's reputed and widely-read dance critic, his words help dancers and audiences understand and appreciate the art of dance and the actual performance, better. For detailed bio see and