Thursday, September 9, 2010

Staged disaster

It was an extremely unusual way of spending a Sunday morning. I was on the fourth floor of the Kala Academy, Prabhadevi watching a group of some 20 women and one man, ranging in age from 18 to 70, dance. They presented three “items” in Kathak, Bharata Natyam and Odissi. They had been learning the basics of the three dance styles for three weeks and this was their passing out programme. I’d never seen anything like it in terms of enthusiasm. One woman came from Powai, another from Borivali and a third from Dahisar.

The idea for these workshops came to Nandini Krishna, the Bharata Natyam dancer when the mother of one of her students said ruefully that she herself would have to wait till her next birth to learn dance. Nandini wondered why she couldn’t be given a shot at it in this birth. So she got her friends Keka Sinha the Kathak dancer and Shubhada the Odissi dancer on board and together they began running workshops in all three styles.

Watching the workshop participants perform took me back to my own dance learning days. It was extremely difficult in those days to find authentic dance gurus in Mumbai. I went to so-called Katahk classes and so-called Manipuri classes, but nothing added up to anything substantial.

People like to believe that in those golden days everybody appreciated the classical arts unlike these gross times, when Bollywood alone dictates tastes. To that I say rubbish! And here’s my experience to prove it.

Known in school as someone who was learning classical dance, I was often called upon to perform in annual concerts. I always refused, horrified at the thought of getting up on the stage to make a spectacle of myself before my classmates. But one year the teacher refused to take no for an answer.

The day of slaughter arrived. I was in some kind of ghagra-choli outfit with abla work. A friend of a friend was on the harmonium playing a staccato lehra. This too shall pass I said to myself as I danced a few desultory tukdas and a gat, none of which made any sense to the audience. Totally dispirited, I did my last little twirl and walked off the stage to a polite sprinkling of applause.

Most unfairly the item after mine was a snake dance by Mohindra Batra (I hear he lives in silicon valley now) done to the popular tune from “Nagin”. Being a snake his costume shimmered with sequins. Being a snake his moves were sinuous. Being a snake he ended his dance spectacularly, his back bent in a deep arch, his right foot touching his forehead. The house collapsed with thunderous applause.

After Mohindra came Savithri and Radha. They were learning Bharata Natyam but they were wise enough not to dance incomprehensible things like the Alaripu. Instead, they did the famous “Appalam chappalam” dance from the 1955 film “Azad” to Lata’s and Usha’s recorded voices. They too were thunderously applauded and my humiliation was complete. Golden age of classical dance appreciation? When was that?

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