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A for arangetram

May 25, 2019

Earlier, a guru decided when his or her ward - shishya - was ready for the stage to be presented to the society of peers, family and friends. Today, a student is ever ready! Parents are more ready (read, often over ambitious) and most gurus too want to show off their wares, in the hope that seeing the debutante on stage more may join the guru's class, raising both the income of a school or chances of a teacher to shine with a prized pupil.

Supriya Hariprasad

Arangetrams also means gifts that a guru gets (move over days of gold chains and saris, one in Madras takes a car per arangetram and had so many lined up in their street that neighbors thought the guru was a car dealer too!) hosting such a do akin to a wedding. From the card, to hall, decor, costume, even food, everything looks like a mini wedding, a glittering gathering.

Which is why it was refreshing to attend one by a deceased costume tailor's daughter, Nisarga, whom her teacher Supriya Hariprasad had groomed lovingly. The teacher returned all the way from New Jersey to Bangalore for a week just to conduct the debut. Imagine, the dedication. It seems by the long list of thank yous, all of Bangalore had come to help this young girl of 16 or so, to help take her baby steps. Even we drove 40 km one way to attend. Otherwise, I dread driving 2 km in Bangalore's slow crawl.

Of course, the glitter was there on stage and off stage, so some sheen came through but what shone was the lass's dance. A Padma Subrahmanyam prototype of karanas, this young dancer executed each item with energy and enthusiasm. She can bend it better than Beckham and move faster than lightning. The overall aesthetics were on the cheap side, almost garish. Shining filmy costumes, heavy make-up, add too many chief guests who made for long introductions and longer speeches (give an Indian a mike and they think it's the last speech on earth they must make!). Imbalanced sound system spoilt some of the beauty of the occasion but it was a fulsome Sunday morning. The debutante Nisarga has stage presence, aplomb and a firm foundation. That's a good start. Kalamshu's aesthetics are pedestrian. It needs to understand difference between circus and classical dance. Their shows are like over-the-top college cultural shows, with too many cooks running here and there. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Bangalore being such a small hall, anything extra clutters.

At the other spectrum was a big hall like Chowdaiah, named after the state's famous violinist, where a debutante dancer-organiser was to host a smorgasbord of a weekend 'festival.' It started by sending of emails inviting all in field, with visible IDs and then more foolish people responded copying Reply All button... It meant one spent precious time first opening such mails, then replying. And why must one suffer for the sender's folly or show off culture? I had committed to attend one such debutante organizer's weekend festival (dance, music, theatre) but this put me off so much, I decided to opt out. Also, because the organizer did the cardinal sin of asking me to write about it. I decide what I attend and find worthy of writing about, not the organizer. Basic culture is missing in cultural field today. It's mostly about marketing. Commerce not culture.

Selling a show is not easy these days but soul is! So, when an honest dancer (yes, strangely many such do exist) appeals openly he has no sponsor or support, how many come forward to help, in a mega metro like Delhi? 3. Yes. As a test, I sent an appeal on behalf of the dancer, to about 10 likely patrons. 5 never had the courtesy to even respond and some among these own huge properties! 2 asked what the dancer will do in return. Dance, what else? I left such predators palming off as patrons, alone. The dancer needed aid, not Aids! Three finally helped: one journo-editor (and we thought this breed just lived off everyone else in the eco system!); one real Seth of Faridabad and one more yours truly can't even reveal. So, then The Show went on!

Students of Reva University

Show - what do our universities have to show by way of dance? Have they produced a single national dance star? Most govt ones have failed to produce a single national name. They talk lots, but basically most are run like any govt. body: listless, useless, corrupt. MSU had dance students protesting against teachers before exams! Shameful. This premier dance dept. has fallen on such bad times due to petty politics and substandard staffing. On the other side are private universities. Fancy campuses, high fee, but do they deliver? Some like Reva are trying to. I've been to Ashoka, in jaat land Haryana (stuck for 3 days 3 years ago, couldn't reach Delhi 30 km away due to Jaat blockade of highway); Flame on the outskirts of Pune (Aamir Khan visited the campus same time, so all students were not in class!). Add, Lovely near Phahara, close to Chandigarh and Jallandar (where as kids visiting our paternal grandparents, we ate at Lovely Sweet shop, neon lights and all, as it was the hot spot on Cantonment, circa early 1970s).

In most of these new private universities, the facilities are first rate, so must be the fee! Reva has dynamic leadership and management that has led to a happening dance dept. now under Dr . Vidya Shimladka, director and head, who has now added even Kathak and Odissi to its courses offered. Sruthy Chandrasekhar is an able music talent looking after faculty issues. The whole campus is one disciplined oasis. Its main hall is the best and biggest in Bangalore, after Christ College's. The Chancellor Dr. P. Shyama Raju is very keen on arts and has made this wing right in the admin block where he sits. He has also mooted the idea of creation of a Performing Arts museum / archives, which founding head of dance dept Dr. Vasanth had initiated. Kalai Kaveri College in Trichy is another good Dept. Father George did lots in initial decade. Then others took over. In last 20 years, with support of the diocese, they have churned out ballet after ballet with superb production qualities. Shastra shows initial promise when it has Dr one-and-only Padma Subrahmanyam as main magnet to draw up an excellent course and because of her, lots of students. She is a university in herself.

Kathak by Devaniya

Superb production qualities marked Devaniya show at Kapali temple, Mylapore, Madras. By dancing in temples, we are taking Indian classical forms back to its natural setting - the temple courtyard. The themes are about gods or divinity. Why not perform where there's natural readymade, even enthusiastic audience? This is a good fit. Diva Padma Subrahmanyam dropped in to bless, as did the comparatively new director of Kalakshetra, Revathi Ramachandran. Jigyasa Giri is doing yeoman service to dance in Madras, especially since Kathak is so rarely seen here. Madras being insular, it is only about Bharatanatyam, at most token Kuchipudi. No Odissi. No modern. No Manipuri, even neighboring state's Kathakali. But its Bharatanatyam is first rate and ranks number one, nationally. Whatever Madras does, it does well. Its heart lies in Bharatanatyam.

Focus on Balasaraswati at IGNCA

Qualities of heart one looks for in artistes. If they don't have it, how can they even claim to be one? Most are mistaking skill for art. Anyone who learns little dance or music thinks they have become an artist! They have only acquired a skill. Like plumber does, or an electrician. Only after years of practice a skill becomes a craft. Once a craft is honed and sharpened it sometimes becomes art. Artists are born, not made. It's not mere training but attitude. Unless you are a born genius like some legends were - Ram Gopal, Uday Shankar, Guru Gopinath - Balasaraswati whose centenary just got over and IGNCA under a truly cultured head Dr. Sachidanand Joshi, made effort to mount a two day focus in May. Trustees Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and Dr. Sonal Mansingh, flanked by another great Pt. Birju Maharaj recalled her life and work. Thus, the month of May was fulsome.

May such matters make for a cultured society. But, are we?

The columnist is author of many books on arts and culture; senior critic, columnist for mainstream media, who served many govt. bodies. Having donated Mohan Khokar Dance Collection to IGNCA, Delhi, he is now helping gallerise and digitise it as permanent archive/museum. He edits yearbook attenDance, now in its 20th year.

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