Nadam Fest in Bangalore
- Ashish Mohan Khokar, Bangalore
Photos: Srivatsa

November 20, 2010

Nadam almost rhymes with rasam and it is as tasty! Each year, Murali Mohan Kalva and partner Nandini Mehta mount two unique festivals: One, Kutti Nadam for kids, as in young talents and the other, Patti Nadam for older, grown-ups. This year, it offered a feast for the eyes of starved Bangaloreans. Look at the line up: India's best male soloist Satyanarayana Raju in Bharatanatyam, followed by Nadam ensemble of 7 and the day one evening concluded with Seraikella Chhau by Shashadhar Acharya.

Day two had Navia Natarajan of USA, followed by Padma Subrahmanyam junior, called Padmini Ravi and day two concluded with Orissi by Aruna Mohanty's group. Day three had Kathak by junior Durga Lal lookalike, Tushar Bhatt, followed by a bout of games played better than the recently concluded Commonwealth Games by ace and senior guru CV Chandrasekhar's group and the evening ending on high note with Kathak by new star of the form, Arjun Mishra's son, Anuj.

Nadam ensemble
While reaching the venue is a deathtrap as crossing the JC Road means a certain death for the less deft, the hall was pretty full on all three days proving that Bangaloreans are willing to die for good art. Nadam group has reasonably good and even talents with Smita Srinivasan looking graceful and dancing gracefully; she has the most charmingly benign personality for the stage. Murali Mohan showed his good tayari and Nandini her good gait. While one can discern the need for editing and doing an item less as Nadam also plays host, Nadam trains well and its students and dancers acquit well. Samanvita Sharma, Mita Vinay, Poorna Acharya, Chandana and Soumya show serious study. Two items were good; two unnecessary! Dancers need to know what to show and how much!
Satyanarayana Raju
Seraikella Chhau
Seraikella was originally part of Orissa but when the map of new India was redrawn, this belt went to Bihar and thus while the people eat and speak Oriya, their domicile now is Bihar. Chhau is a belt, not a form. Masks are used in two, Purulia and Seraikella and Mayurbhanj has martial traits. In fact, all have body kinetics akin to martial arts. Shashadhar Acharya benefitted by being at Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Delhi in the eighties and acquired some choreographic skills but all items were a bit repetitive: same slow beat start, manifesting in pace and concluding in crescendo. While that is the form and its format, one has seen much variety and development of themes...being repetitive in one evening, it leads to certain ennui. Masks are also new looking, so the depth and old-world beauty is gone though Shashadhar is trying his best to serve the form, earlier a preserve of the royalty, now taken up by all and with much support from Sangeet Natak funding. Shashi's offerings were loved by Bangalore audiences. Ratri or night chasing moon, and swan etched well although jerky. Dancers were reasonably good and the black costume could not hide Shashi's girth! He is heavy set but graceful unlike many of our senior dancers, especially of Bharatanatyam in Madras and Kathak in Delhi.

Day two had a winsome, slim version of Prathibha Prahlad, yes, so much does Navia Natarajan look like this Bangalorean now settled in Delhi, on stage. But there the similarity ends; Navia is detailed with no sloppy unfinished movements and each adavu and hasta is well enunciated. Her face is calm and stable and not over busy. Her abhinaya is understated. Only her kinetics are a bit jerky and half done. Guru A Lakshman suffers from the same Ramaiah Pillai cinematic style that flourishes in this mould. Diagonal dancing, half movements syndrome are good on camera. And while they sparkle, they also look somewhat incomplete. I saw last month, the same situation in some male dancers of Madras. But then with a guru like A Lakshman, whose Jyotsna Jagannathan is a shining specimen, Navia's neat Bharatanatyam is no surprise.

Navia Natarajan
Padmini Ravi
What was a surprise was to see how dancers mature and gain confidence to even undertake themes and items they never would have, when younger. Padmini Ravi, commonly called "aunty" (she is only fifty plus), as she has trained nearly anyone walking or crawling Bharatanatyam in Bangalore, took to stage next to showcase her journey in dance. After a hiatus of over a decade, when she stopped and asked herself why she was doing what she was doing (and she publicly gives me credit for opening her eyes! It seems she danced at the IIC in Delhi in the mid-nineties and I was then the dance critic of the Times of India in Delhi. This is before the Hindu started in Delhi. I don't recall the over 3000 reviews I would have done in 15 years of my dance writing for the Times and Firstcity in Delhi and owing to 5 resident shifts, all old articles and papers lie packed in some trunk!), this ace devotee of Padma Subrahmanyam (she mentioned her 5 times in two items!) has returned to stage this year and must be looking for new meaning in her dance. Her varnam, a routine song was made joyous and enjoyable largely because she vested it with naturalness and flamboyance. I've rarely enjoyed a varnam more in recent years! Next, her contextualising her choice of dancing to a film song "Mehndi" from Zubeida, (post Saroj Khan interactions, inputs and inroads in core classical world through shops that work = workshops!) only proved one thing: If only all film stars learnt some classical dance, how beautiful their dancing would look! Foundation in any classical form enhances film dance; look at Waheeda, Vyjayantimala, Padmini, Kamala, Hema and Rekha. Add Sridevi, Sripriya, Srikala and all Sri sri sris. Padmini's use of beautifully etched and sometimes languorous hastas, the flowery delivery - all make it so wholesomely comely and beautiful. Mami-s may have issues (photographer Shrivatsa, who gives running commentary and could well turn critic(!) confided next day that Malleswaram audiences walked out of a previous Seva Sadan show, when she last danced to film songs and I said too bad!) with Padmini Ravi's dancing to film songs but my reservation is why use Bharatanatyam? Scholars in search of meaning can always connect anything to the Natyashastra but does it hold with the form? Change is coming and Padmini Ravi maybe the catalyst. Padmini is a sincere and serious artiste and all artistes have artistic license. Dance is dance.
Aruna Mohanty's group
Aruna Mohanty next, all in purple haze, is a smart Orissi dancer. Her boys in the troupe show promise with Pankaj Pradhan and Manoranjan looking and dancing splendid. Ramesh Jena, Pravat Kumar Swain and Biswajit completed the male members of the group. Costumes were the high point and so was the music. Orissi dance has come of age in group compositions, especially if one sees works like Ratikant Mohanpatra's 'Tantra' premiered recently. Aruna's group had Rosalin, Janabhi, Nayana, and Sridutta.

On day 3, Tushar Bhatt comes smiling despite a false start with the music cd stuck. Must be afraid of Ravana! He was to do Shiva tandava stotram, an often done ode by Ravana to Shiva. A powerful piece, Tushar does a literal rendition. Tushar has a happy stage appearance though he needs to work on tala and laya. Movements also need to be well etched. He seems in a hurry, unfinished. Guru CV Chandrasekhar brought a leisurely production called Kreeda (not raas krida but child kreeda-s as in games kids play or used to!) as it was near Childrens Day or to share the innocent beauty of his childhood games and our gilli-danda; sttapoo; lattoo, shatranaj; patang...all done simply in the Bharatanatyam mode. The group had all shades, shapes and size of dancers making it look natural and not artificially beautiful and each member danced and acted well. The music was of high merit, live, no less. CV Chandrasekhar has understood the inner core and substance of the form and taken kernel truth out and shared with all. It need not be about mythology, beauty, love, scorn, hate, just innocence itself. His journey has been long but he has shown the way with such rigid tradition like that of Bharatanatyam as taught in Kalakshetra, his alma mater.

Anuj's bleeding feet
Anuj Mishra and Smriti
Tushar Bhatt
The star of the show, the king of this festival was wonder boy Anuj. As is customary of Kathakaars to talk, he kept saying "my father, my father" and no one knew who his father is as he did not name him until it struck me that he must be Arjun Mishra's son! Arjun himself is hardly 50+ but then Kathak folks sometimes marry early and have children soon! The point being Arjun Mishra himself maybe young and yet has a young son, all grown up. And what a son! Or sun. He is going to shine on the firmament of the national dance scene and will be the next big thing. This boy has all of Saraswati's gifts, hope it does not go to his head, hair on which needs gel. All that style is good but while Kathakaars can be such masters of taal, why can't they be masters of baal (hair!?). Unruly hair falling on a beautiful face and on divine nashili eyes, mar the appearance and while Zakir Hussain hairstyle may be an inspiration, it looks okay while playing the tabla, not while dancing! Anuj means small or chhota, but there is nothing small about his talent: Backed by a good physique, neither namby-pamby, nor muscular, this wonder boy showed wonderful Kathak and his performance will remain as the highlight of the year for this reviewer. Two weeks ago in Delhi, at a dinner hosted by the DG of ICCR, I had asked maestro Birju bhai who the next generation star was...I now have the answer! May Anuj's art grow because it has an effortless flow. His grounding is rock solid. Bhaiya khaandaani hai...this is gharana. Bangaloreans have rarely seen Kathak of this ilk and standards. He danced while he bled (pic enclosed); he danced wildly and the youngsters cheered him as only Bangaloreans can and in the end he got a standing ovation. Amad, thaat, uthan, tatkar, gat-nikar, chakras up to 36x3= - count for yourself! And all that while standing and ending in one point. I felt bad I was not wearing a gold chain to take off and gift him, he is so good. His dainty doll partner, his sister Smriti, with atrocious dress sense, (Tushar, please help her!) acquitted admirably and is also perfectly trained. Her petite form does nothing to diminish her fine tayari and layakari and even abhinaya. For the last 6 decades, the Lucknow gharana had moved to Delhi (Achchan, Shambhu, Birju Maharaj ji) but now Lucknow gharana is back in Lucknow, courtesy Arjun and Anuj Misra. Jio mere lal, jio!

Nadam deserves kadamb for looking beyond their nose and getting several splendid dancing feet to Bangalore. That many sponsors and others helped, including the mai baap of cultural patronage, the Ministry in Delhi itself, shows the festival has come of age and to stay. Hope next time we don't die crossing the JC Road to the hall! That would be the final show. Amen!

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. /