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Start-up nurturing nascent talents

October 11, 2019

Looking first, at an analogy from the business world, entrepreneurship has not been lacking among the young generation, but investment was. It is only recently that the millennial enterprises have sprouted "start-ups" and have been able to secure "venture funds" from what are named "angel investors". As is common in the business market, some start-ups have fallen by the wayside, some have just managed to keep their nose above troubled waters, and yet a few have done startlingly well.

In the rarefied atmosphere of performing arts, young dancers are known to be equally lacking monetary encouragement for their art. Both in the Marghazi season in Chennai or round the year in Kolkata, classical dancers are made to pay from their own pocket for their performance -- for a few precious minutes -- on the public platform. This seems quite reminiscent of the above model of the erstwhile business situation, except that here angel investors are yet to spring up.

Nritya Navin 2019 presented on September 23 and 24 by Nipun Nrityalaya, was the culmination of sponsorship efforts of a very refreshing "angel" in the form of Manojit Saha, Nipun's director and a Bharatanatyam dancer of repute --- being groomed by guru CV Chandrasekhar over last 10 years. Nipun took the initiative of selecting, after serial elimination, 15 young dance talents finally from five different classical styles and agreeing to have all their expenses covered including travel and stay, besides offering them an honorarium for the eventual performance. Nipun called for direct applications - supported by bio-data, solo performance video, guru's recommendation and press clippings if any -- through social media. Nipun's motto was: first, to stop the youngsters' "pay-and-perform" culture and, secondly, to promote art and young talented dancers by suitably paying them for their efforts.

On behalf of Nipun, Saha received 213 enthusiastic applications, including some from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Canada and the UK. While getting the overseas dancers to India was beyond his financial means, he could ensure bulk support from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Kolkata, and Infosys, Bengaluru, in cash for covering the performers' logistics and EZCC, Kolkata, in kind, by providing the auditorium for two days with light and sound systems for the performance. While travel expenses were reimbursed to all, hospitality was provided in Saha's own Gurukul complex in single-room comfort and home food supplied (cooked by Saha's own elders) to each participant's taste. Thoughtfully, each outstation female performer was allowed an escort without extra expenses and, on the performance day, Nipun volunteers looked after complete needs of the performers on a one-to-one basis. Some sightseeing tours were thrown in for good measure.

The complete schema is mentioned above to indicate the thoroughness of the "start-up" efforts (with Saha coughing up over a fourth of the total budget from his own pocket), to give credit where it is due. While the "start-up" Nipun under Saha remains enthusiastic for the coming years, this critic would venture to suggest persuading more "angel investors" for financial backing and help creating a "venture fund"; requesting ICCR for covering travel of foreign performers; and enlisting the help of reputed gurus for recommending their talented disciples (on the model of Sangeet Natak Akademi looking primarily for guru's nominations for Bismillah Khan Yuva Awards), instead of seeking applications from young performers themselves. This would help to enlist gurus' cooperation in the whole laudable endeavor, endorsed especially by Jonathan Hollander, Artistic Director of the well-known Battery Dance Company of the USA, through a goodwill video. Appended below is a brief overview of the two-day program in the spacious EZCC performance space.

Slide show
Photos courtesy: Nipun Nrityalaya

First evening
First came Debosmita Roy, Bharatanatyam dancer and disciple of Manojit Saha, with Ganesha Keertanam in raga Hamsadhwani performing Ananda Tandava. This was followed by Trimata Koutuvam in ragamalika and ektal, eulogizing the three goddesses Saraswati, Mahalakshmi and Durga. She was promising talent, needing more practice and picking up grace. Poulomi Mukherjee, Odissi dancer and disciple of guru Subikash Mukherjee, presented Shiva Tandava in raga Bhatiyar, with choreography by guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and music by Pt Bhubaneswar Mishra. Her abhinaya followed in Champu Leelanidhi Hey..., in raga Mukhai and tala jhula, based on choreography by Kelubabu and music by Bhubaneswar Mishra. Her dance was promising too, needing angashuddhi.

Supratim Talukdar, Bharatanatyam dancer and disciple of Abhay Pal and Sujata Ramalingam, presented Narayana Koutuvam in raga Nadai and tala adi, choreographed by Sujata Ramalingam. Varnam came next on Nandanar Charitam. Nandanar, as a dalit, was not allowed to enter the Nataraja temple. Beaten up, he still persisted and Nandi moved to allow him a vision of the deity. His final item was a Marathi Abhang, Brindavani venu baje...., where the poet Bhanudas saw the beauty of Brindavan, in raga Bhimpalasi and ekam tala. He should be encouraged to work hard. Sourav Samanta, Odissi dancer and disciple of Sutapa Talukdar, performed Pallavi in raga Kirwani and tala khemta, choreographed by Kelubabu with music by Bhubaneswar Mishra. He concluded with Jayadeva's ashtapadi Hari riha mugdha... in raga Mishra Shankarabarnam with choreography by Kelubabu and music by Bhubaneswar Mishra. He also needed to work more on his dance.

Fifth was D. Sai Krishna Sannidha, Kuchipudi dancer from Visakhapatnam and disciple of Hari Ramamurthy. She presented Lalita Pravesham depicting Lalita as consort of Shiva and how the world was saved by her. This was set in raga Lalita-Kalyani. Next came her padam in ragam Kalyani and adi tala, visualizing a virahotkanthita nayika, choreographed by her guru. She was one of the best dancers of the evening, with very good abhinaya and well-executed pure dance. Krishnendu Saha, Odissi dancer and disciple of Sharmila Biswas began with Ramashtakam, choreographed by his guru to music by Prafulla Kar and followed this by a Swaramalika, Shokovarali, again choreographed by his guru, set in raga Todi and tala rupaka. His concluding item was Moksha Mangalam. A seasoned dancer seen often to have partnered his guru on stage, he was the other best dancer of the evening.

Concluding the evening was Avinav Mukharji, Kathak dancer from Delhi and disciple of Geetanjali Lal of Jaipur Gharana. He executed initially pure nritta in 14-beat tala dhamar and followed it up with Krishnalila, depicting many avatars of Vishnu, Kamsavadh and Kaliyadaman. No comments are offered as his dance was partially seen by this critic.

Second evening
Gouri Kundu, Kathak dancer and disciple of Dr. Malabika Mitra, commenced with Shivastuti. Then she presented technical Kathak with tatkar, uthan, chakradhar and Radhakrishna Parhant. She followed with a Kajri Baithi Soche Brijabhan.., depicting vipralabdha nayika. She concluded with chakradhar, parhant and elaborate Sawal-Jawab. She was the only dancer with live music support, with Pt. Dinanath Mishra on tabla, Pratip Banerjee as vocalist and Sandeep Niyogi on sitar. Her dance was alright, but she should pick up the skill for announcing her items. Nilay Mondal, Bharatanatyam dancer and disciple of Saroja Vaidyanathan, started with a Puspanjali in raga Jog and tala adi, with his own choreography. Then came his abhinaya with a bhajan by Swati Tirunal, set in raga Behag and tala adi, with choreography by Rama Vaidyanathan, Main to nehi jaun Yamuna teer... He concluded with a Desh Tillana praising Hanumana, with choreography by his guru. He needed more presentation skill to do justice to Rama's choreography.

Somabha Bandopadhay, Manipuri dancer and disciple of Sruti Bandopadhay, began with Swaraprabandha in raga Bhupali and tala Kuranji, where sakhi Lalita dances for Krishna and Radha, with choreography by Guru Bipin Singh. She followed up with Jayadeva's Dashavatara dance, usually executed with claps and danced during Rathajatra, in 8-beat Tancha tala, choreographed by Guru Darshana Javeri. She was very good and easily the best dancer of the evening, although she omitted the claps. Arunava Barman, Bharatanatyam dancer and disciple of Manojit Saha, started with Chidambaram Natesha Kavuthuvam with choreography by his guru concluding with Tillana in raga Hindolam and tala adi, and Shivastuti as charanam, with choreography again by his guru. His dance had good promise.

Subhojit Dutta, Bharatanatyam dancer and disciple of Sujata Ramalingam, began with Saraswati Kautuvam set in raga Gaulai and tala mishra rupaka. He followed this with Keertanam on Aadi Parashakti, Saraswati, Mahalakshmi and Mahakali. He ended with a Tillana, with Devi Parvati Stuti as charanam, set in raga Sindhu Bhairavi and adi tala, with music by Madurai R Muralidharan and choreography again by his guru. He needed more practice. Sanjeev Kumar Jena, Odissi dancer from Bhubaneswar and disciple of Guru Bichitrananda Swain, began with a Pallavi in raga Ananda Bhairavi with music by Ramahari Das and rhythm by his guru. In the abhinaya Jashobara, Radha awaits Krishna with the lyric Jo Shyam ro re..., with choreography by his guru. Sanjeev was an excellent dancer, with a unique dance style evolved by his guru.

Aparna Shastry, Bharatanatyam dancer and disciple of Radha Shridhar, executed a Krithi, Adenamma in raga Pharas and tala adi, penned by Pallavi Doraiswamy Iyer. She ended with Devarnama, Jagadhodharana in raga Kapi penned by Saint Purandara Dasa. The eighth and final performer was Tarit Sarkar, Kathak dancer from Jamshedpur and disciple of Sandip Bose and Gauri Diwakar. He first performed Shiva Vandana in teental, 16 beats. Then he moved to a Bhajan, Bara nat chhat Shyama Sundara..., composed by Birju Maharaj, with choreography by Madhumita Roy and Sandip Bose. He concluded with Tarana in raga Malkauns composed by Jaikishan Maharaj and choreographed by his guru. This critic did not get to witness the last two dancers.

Post script - Govindan Kutty Auditorium

Sreeya Chowdhury

On September 27, Kalamandalam presented a special performance by the 18-year-old Sreeya Chowdhury from Maryland, USA, Bharatanatyam dancer and disciple of Lakshmi Swaminathan. Lakshmi, a student of Guru Thankamani Kutty, had her arangetram in 1978. Sreeya has been receiving training from Lakshmi for the last ten years, with arangetram performed only early this year.

A first-year student of dance (with subsidiaries as theatre studies, Hip Hop and ballet of Balanchine style) in the USA, Sreeya has turned out to be an exceptionally talented classical dancer. She began with a Ganesha Vandana choreographed by her guru. She followed it up with a scintillating varnam Omkara Karini... in the four-note raga Lavangi created by the legendary singer Balamurali Krishna. Her abhinaya piece Thumaka chalata Ramachandra bajata payjaniya..., the famous Tulsidas bhajan was choreographed by her guru. She concluded with a Tillana in raga Hindolam, with Shiva Stuti as charanam, choreographed by Thankamani Kutty. It was a most satisfying aesthetic experience!

Dr. Utpal K Banerjee is a scholar-commentator on performing arts over last four decades. He has authored 23 books on Indian art and culture, and 10 on Tagore studies. He served IGNCA as National Project Director, was a Tagore Research Scholar and is recipient of Padma Shri.


It is quite a treat to read an article by Utpal K. Banerjee. He sets up an ambiance for reading on the subjects he writes on. As Banerjee applauded Monojit Saha's efforts, we, the appreciators of dance, do also feel the same that Monojit has done a very good thing and could be an eye opener for many. But, it pains to see that nowadays most of the performing Bharatanatyam artistes do not like to mention the name of their original Gurus. Instead they feel proud to mention the names of the Gurus under whom they have done workshops in a later stage of their growing up as performing artiste. It is a very alarming trend. It appears that they are ashamed to acknowledge the names of their parents (in this case Gurus) just because he or she does not have a national or international fame.
- Somnath G. Kutty (Oct 22, 2019)

I entirely agree with Somnath Kutty that the Gurus’ names should invariably be mentioned by the dancers.
- Utpal K Banerjee (Oct 23, 2019)

Thank you, respected Dr.Utpal K Banerjee,
I am very happy to see this detailed review regarding Nritya Navin 2019 at Kolkata, dedicated to young dancers in our country, which is wonderfully written by you. Your support, blessings, encouraging words always inspire me a lot for doing this kind of work, which is strongly against pay and perform act. Our initiative is to promote art and the young talented artists in our country. I am really very thankful to you, Sir.
- Manojit Saha (Oct 19, 2019)

I hope your excellent idea inspires others to launch similar "start-ups" for providing "angel funds" to support travel, stay and performance of our young angelic dancers! I do think there is something drastically wrong for budding talents to "pay and perform".
- Utpal K Banerjee (20 October 2019)

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