Bengaluru Diary: April / May 2011
- Dr. Sunil Kothari

June 22, 2011

Prem Koshy in ‘Table by the Window’

During my visit to Bangalore for World Dance Day celebrations organized by Nupura and Lalitha Srinivasan for Nitya Nritya annual, as usual with colleagues from World Dance Alliance Karnataka chapter Sai Venkatesh and Satish Suri, I invariably visit Koshy’s without which a visit to Bengaluru is incomplete. Meeting ever smiling, welcoming and friendly, courteous Prem Koshy, owner-partner of Koshy’s has been always a pleasure. For last four years, I have been visiting Bengaluru and it is a must for us to be at Koshy’s. The nondescript slowly moving waiters also exude warmth. One feels welcome whether one is from New Delhi or Mumbai.

Satish Suri
I asked Satish, is there no book on Koshy’s, a remarkable landmark? Satish smiled and went out returning with a beautifully designed book ‘Table by the Window’ by late Raghav Shreyas. What a wonderful ‘unputdownable’ book and a pictorial record with excellent photographs taken by Raghav, of the myriad interesting characters that constitute the City, a tribute to ever-lasting bond between its hub and its people. The writers, lawyers, poets, bankers, photographers, shopkeepers, dancers, musicians, actors, journalists, retired gents and ladies all come to Koshy’s. Seen through the perceptive lens and the proverbial third eye of the photographer Raghav Shreyas, these portraits of Koshy’s habitués depict the microcosm of Bengaluru.

Out of curiosity I had asked why there was no book like one on Mumbai’s landmark ‘Samovar’ restaurant. Raghav’s book is another which brings the Bengaluru city alive. You name them and they are all there - Girish Karnad, Ramachandra Guha, Shanbagh TS, Pushpamala N, Prasanna, Mahesh Dattani, Poile Sengupta, Nupur Basu and Parvathi Menon, Chidanand Rajghatta, Jogi Panghal, Akumal Ramchander, Vikram Sardesai, and of course Prem Koshy. He says, ‘Our family is blessed that so many people feel such a strong sense of belonging to Koshy’s. I never take its popularity for granted. I always remember what my grandfather told us. ‘The customer has a choice of going anywhere and if he chooses to come here, show your gratitude with good food and service.’”

I never met Raghva Shreyas, nor knew anything about him even when he was a student at Faculty of Fine Arts at Baroda. Vastly gifted, he has captured the Bangaloreans in evocative frames. One has known them over the years and more so one feels close to them since I have been visiting Bengaluru regularly in April.

Lalitha Srinivasan
Staying with Lalitha-ji and Srinivasan for a week, I had a wonderful time. In the mornings when Lalitha-ji would prepare breakfast and I would glance through e-mails, she would reminisce about her younger days, when she started learning from Venkatalakshamma. That particular ‘Mysore bani’ style of Bharatanatyam with several Sanskrit shlokas from Amarushataka, padams, javalis, and Kannada compositions enriched her repertoire and understanding of a parampara, a tradition which is priceless. Under Nupura she has arranged a two-day seminar, on 23rd and 24th July, including demonstrations, recreation of some rare items and performances which I am looking forward to attending.

Next door stay other icons of Bengaluru, Dr. Rangachar and his wife Vimala Rangachar. It is always a pleasure to courtesy call on the couple. It was Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay who had introduced me to Vimala. Her daughter Revathi and cousin Asha used to perform Bharatanatyam together. Many years ago when I was conducting dance-demonstrations and presenting young dancers at Kal-Ke-Kalakar festival in ‘70s at the CJ Hall in Mumbai, both of them had performed when Muthaiah, son of Meenakshisundaram Pillai conducted nattuvangam. The duo had appeared like bronze Deepalakshmi, impeccably dressed in colourful costumes. Those images still linger in my mind. In my series for Femina on young dancers with colour photographs, I had written an article on the duo.

Meeting Vimala and Dr. Rangachar regularly for Nitya Nritya festival and seminars organized by Lalitha and Srinivasan in ‘80s was a learning process. One was enriched with traditions prevalent in Karnataka. Vimala and Dr. Rangachar used to stage plays and are legends. We talk about those wonderful days and I have asked Usha RK to document under Research and Documentation Network of World Dance Alliance Karnataka Chapter, their stories, which I have always felt would constitute the history of thespians of Bengaluru.

The morning walks in Malleswaram are a real delight. The quiet, gracious bungalows and flats, trees, senior citizens taking morning walks, remind me of old world charm. Unaggressive, quiet, gentle people stand out, so different from the other part of the world where I stay. Subbudu, the acerbic critic, with his penchant for ‘pun’ used to say, “Sunil, to live in the Capital is a capital punishment.” Of course I love Delhi but indeed it is a blessing to visit and stay in Bengaluru.

Release of Attendance

Ashish Khokar has been organizing ‘Dance Discourse’ at Alliance Francaise regularly every month. I attended the launch of the latest issue of his annual ‘attendance’ which he is bringing out for the past ten years. The evening was special as along with the launch of the annual, in that exquisite ambience of Alliance Francaise, in spite of rains a large number of discerning dance loving crowd had turned up. Since the issue has focused on dancing couples, there were also three brief recitals of dancing couples of Bengaluru, two of them featured in attendance. Bharatanatyam exponents Kiran and Sandhya, Shridhar and Anuradha, and Kathak dancers Hari and Chethana. That soft speaking former Chief Secretary of Karnataka, diplomat Chiranjeevi Singh-ji introduced the annual giving insightful comments. The Consul General of France for South India region received the first copy which Vimala Rangachar released.

Then followed the performances, which were very pleasing, revealing the sound training over the years of the dancers who have grown up in Bengaluru. In turn, they are training a young generation of dancers. The Kirans had recently, after completion of 25 years of their institute presented their disciples whose training is exemplary. Kiran and Sandhya are a talented dancing couple, groomed by Padmini Ravi and receiving further training under Dhananjayans. I had seen Shridhar and his wife Anuradha for the first time last year and was much impressed seeing Shridhar’s presentation of Mahabharata characters, his depth of knowledge and impersonations, Anuradha’s solos and their duets complimenting each other. Their performance further reiterated their excellence. The Kirans and Shridhar - Anuradha lived up to their reputations.

Kiran and Sandhya
Photo: Srivatsa Shandilya

Hari and Chethana

Shridhar and Anuradha

Only in March, at the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts at Washington DC, attending ‘Maximum India’ Festival, I had an opportunity to witness for the first time Hari and Chethana’s Kathak performance in Shakuntala dance-drama choreographed by Usha Venkateswaran. Hari has a commanding stage presence and as Dushyanta he looked like a charming prince as it were transported from Javanese court of Yogyakarta! So did Chethana as Shakuntala, performing Kathak in a flawless manner. The young couple impressed the audience with salient features of Kathak, the footwork, the chakkars and gentle abhinaya to the Sanskrit shlokas in praise of Shiva.

The evening was further enlivened by discussion where one recalled the senior dance couples from Uday Shankar - Amala Shankar, Bengaluru based late US Krishna Rao - UK Chandrabhaga Devi and others. The concept of dancing together essentially is complementing each other, without one-upmanship, retaining one’s individuality, understanding and achieving the unity of form. The dancers spoke of their own experiences.

I complimented Ashish and his wife Elisabeth for organizing such wonderful events. And Alliance Francaise for the support and the venue. I was reminded of what I used to do in Mumbai with Nayana Jhaveri organizing week-long dance demonstrations, twice a year at Swami Haridas Sammelan and Kal-Ke Kalakar Festival under the aegis of Sur Singar Samsad from 1970 till 1980 and after that when I moved to Kolkata as a Professor and Head of Dance Department at Rabindra Bharati University, at Padatik Dance Centre of Shyamanand and Chetna Jalan.

Exhibition of Mohan Khokar Dance Collection

Mohan Khokar

Veteran dancer Leela Ramanathan, Vasundhara Doreswamy, and President of World Dance Alliance KarnatakaChapter, Veena Murthy Vijay

Ashish’s father late Prof Mohan Khokar was my mentor, friend, philosopher and guide. To see Ashish assiduously single-handedly working in dance, publishing a dance annual, books on dance like biographies of his mother MK Saroja, of Guru Maya Rao and latest of Guru Pratap Pawar, organizing exhibition of Mohan Khokar’s unique dance collection (first at Delhi at Habitat Centre to be inaugurated by Dr. Karan Singh, President of Indian Council for Cultural Relations on 17th July) which will travel abroad to Europe and USA, and taking Lingaraj Pradhan (Bhubaneswar), Satyanarayana Raju, Seshadri Iyengar (Bharatanatyam), Murali Mohan Kalva and Tushar Bhatt (Kathak), Bengaluru’s male star soloists on a dance tour of USA, giving illustrated talks on dance with rare material from Mohan Khokar’s collection and instituting annual awards in memory of Ram Gopal and Mohan Khokar - the activities visualized and undertaken by him are praiseworthy, engrossing and are invigorating the Bengaluru dance scene. I take a vicarious pleasure watching these activities with pleasure. Ashish has done his parents proud.

Sai Venkatesh

My visits to Bengaluru have been always rewarding thanks to Lalitha Srinivasan reviving the annual Nupura three day festival, with a seminar on Sunday morning and also coinciding with World Dance Day. With Karnataka Chapter of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific, Bengaluru with untiring efforts of Sai Venkatesh, Satish Suri, Veena Murthy Vijay, Bhanumati, Anuradha Vikranth, TM Vikranth, Sharmila Mukherjee, Shama, dance critic and journalist Ulagnathan, and other local dancers, Karnataka Chapter has a remarkable track record of organizing workshops, lectures, Sai’s dance festival at Seva Sadan Hall in the heart of Malleswaram.

Along with Anuradha and Vikranth’s annual Drishti Festival, their own Drishti publication and Veena Murthy Vijay’s dynamic chairmanship of Karnataka chapter has made a mark on the dance scene. There are future plans to organize a national seminar on dance and a series of events which are part of WDA AP. Recently under the Research and Documentation Network along with Sai, Satish and Madhavi Puranam of Nartanam quarterly published from Hyderabad, we recorded interviews of senior dancers Maya Rao, Leela Ramanathan and critic SV Chandrashekhar. The history of revival of Indian classical dances as narrated by the veterans is fascinating. When published, these interviews shall provide to any research scholar most valuable information of how neo-classical dance developed in Karnataka.

My next stop was Mysore. I had been there earlier in mid -70s to interview Venkatalakshamma and research on Mysore School of Bharatanatyam for my Marg book on Bharatanatyam. I had also visited it with Subbudu for annual dance festival organized by Vasundhara Doreswamy, a Bharatanatyam exponent with solid background of Yoga. We had seen young Kiran playing mridangam and Subbudu and I were indeed impressed seeing his command over the percussion instrument. Not only a bright Bharatanatyam exponent, his talents promised a bright future for him and his endeavors.

The Bhushans
Badari Divya Bhushan and his wife Anjana, the dancing duo of Mysore are doing good work organizing dance workshops, training young dancers in Bharatanatyam at their academy, performing, choreographing dance-dramas, contemporary dances, seminars and organizing Purush festival focusing on male dancers. They also celebrate World Dance Day inviting dancers from different parts of the country for a day long dance festival. Trained by Vasundhara Doreswamy, Badari moved on to learn from other gurus establishing his own dance academy and branching out on his own. Grand nephew of Kalyan Kumar, a celebrated film star of yester years, Badari has chosen classical Bharatanatyam giving up the lure of films. We visited the dance faculty of Mysore University, where Shila Sridhar from Kalakshetra is teaching Bharatanatyam. Earlier Venkatalakshamma was on the Faculty of Performing Arts and her granddaughter Shakuntala.

Recently one more University of Music and Dance has been set up. That augurs well for Mysore. The Dussera festival draws to Mysore national dancers of repute and Mysore is all agog with dance and music. The great enlightened ruler Chamaraja Wodeyar and his descendents support the festival in a grand manner.

I discussed with Badari Bhushan to organize a seminar on dance in collaboration with Karnataka Chapter of World Dance Alliance and Mysore University. The great Sanskrit scholar Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. Satyanarayana resides in Mysore. Meeting him and his son Dr. Nandakumar and his wife Radhika Nandakumar was another rewarding experience. Dr. Satyanarayana’s work on Pundarika Vitthala’s Nartananirnaya is of seminal contribution. We go a long way and as a member of University Grants Committee, I had the privilege of working with him. We recalled our annual meetings at Bengaluru for Nitya Nritya festival and seminars and look forward to the seminar which is being planned at Mysore University. Radhika Nandakumar is recreating some dance items of Mysore bani, a glimpse of which I had seen at Mangalore during a dance seminar and festival in November last year when Dr. Arati, daughter of Jayalakshmi Alva, had invited several dancers and scholars at Mangalore. More about it in my next article.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is dance historian, scholar, author, and a renowned dance critic. A regular contributor to, Dr Kothari received the Senior Critic award last year from Dance Critics Association, NYC.