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Dr. Nandkishore Kapote: I want to take Kathak to new heights
- Vijay Shanker

July 19, 2017

One of the senior most Kathak exponents based in Pune, whose enriching contribution spans more than three decades, Dr. Nandkishore Kapote is the disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj. He has established the Nandkishore Cultural Society and the Sitara Devi Art Museum. He is known for his charismatic performances and as a choreographer for thought provoking and social dance dramas. He has won several prestigious awards and is a senior fellow of the Ministry of Culture. Nandkishore reveals his journey and his aspirations in this candid interview.

What drew you to dance?
I was inclined towards dance since my childhood and I recall my family members telling me that at the age of three I started dancing. I stayed with my grandparents in my childhood; my grandfather who was working as Commissioner in the Revenue Dept got transferred frequently and hence I had to change my school every time he got transferred. We were at Tilaknagar near Shrirampur where my talent was first recognized in the school. I performed for songs "Madhuban mein Radhika nache re...," "Laaga chunri mein daag" which I myself set and performed and this was highly appreciated by my teacher who advised my grandmother to impart dance training to me through a proper guru so that I can perform better.

Any particular reason to select Kathak?
I remember I was schooling in Pune at Modern High School. In front of our school there was a dance class where I started learning under Mira Pundol (disciple of Late Pt. Gopi Krishna). I was still unaware of the dance style which I was learning. But during that time I got an opportunity to see a mesmerizing performance of Guru Gopi Krishna and got influenced so much that I decided that moment itself to learn the same dance form. It was then I got to know that his style of dance is known as Kathak. I also met him backstage after the performance and requested him to teach me. He called me to Mumbai, gave me his autograph, contact address and told me that he would teach me. But I was still very young and in school and my parents would not allow me, hence I could not learn under him.

What has been the family influence?
I was born on Shri Krishna Janmashtami day and hence my parents named me as Nandkishore which means Krishna. In my family, no one is a dancer but I was very much inclined to dance. My parents did not like dance as during that time there was not a single male learning dance in Maharashtra. My grandfather always wanted me to become an IAS officer and so did my parents. They allowed me to learn dance as a hobby and they thought that I would leave it after some time. But today the story is entirely different and my family is fully supporting me.

Did you face any problems as a male classical dancer?
Yes, during the initial phase when I was learning I faced many challenges, as our society does not look favorably on male classical dancers. I never disclosed to my classmates that I was learning Kathak as they would make fun of me. But later, my talent started getting recognition and everything changed for the better.

Your first teacher in Kathak and your association with Pt Birju Maharaj...
Along with my grandmother, I was passing though Prabhat Road and we heard the sound of ghungroos (bells). To my surprise there was a class going on for Kathak and I recalled Gopi Krishna's performance and was filled with curiosity to enquire further. I got to know that Guru Prabha Marathe and Guru Munnalal Shukla (nephew of Pt Birju Maharaj) were teaching and finally my Kathak learning started from there. I completed my Diploma and Degree course in Kathak through them, along with my academic studies. Gradually, I also started giving stage performances. My father's friend who knew I was a classical dancer showed him an advertisement for a Government scholarship and persuaded my father to fill the form. I therefore got an interview call that was in Delhi. I recall all the panel members who conducted my interview (Late Guru Mohan Rao Kalyanpurkar, Late Guru Damayanti Joshi, Guru Kumudini Lakhia, Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan and Pt Birju Maharaj). Candidates from all over India were called for this interview and during that time only two students were eligible to get scholarship. I finished my interview and returned to Pune. As I had completed B.Com, I continued to enroll for M.Com externally and also started a part time job preparing for IAS exams. Eventually, after 3 months, I got the interview result that I had received the National Scholarship from Dept of Culture, Government of India. My grandfather was not really happy but my father supported me and then I moved to Delhi to continue my further training in Kathak under Pt. Birju Maharaj.

With Pt Birju Maharaj

How would you describe the expertise and style of Panditji?
I learnt Kathak under the kind and able guidance of Pt. Birju Maharaj through Guru Shishya Parampara. When I started learning under him, I felt like a new student of Kathak. His dance is so unique and his way of teaching is so catchy that learning under him is a blissful experience. Maharaj-ji has added beauty to Kathak. He is not only great as a guru, teacher, performer but also a great human being. I used to spend the whole day with Maharaj-ji in dance and later in the evening, I would go to his house. I was treated as a member of their family. I learnt Kathak under Pt Birju Maharaj for ten years.

Your experience as a performer and teacher?
I was the first Kathak exponent in Maharashtra. In 1983 with the blessings of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, I established the Nandkishore Cultural Society stepping into the field of Kathak dance training in Pune. I realized that the more I taught, I was getting more and more polished. I have trained many students in Maharashtra, India and abroad. I have performed solo and dance dramas in India and abroad. I am an A Grade artist of Delhi Doordarshan and have performed on national television's 'National Program of Dance' multiple times.

Do you have many male students?
Yes, I have many male students who have done BA, MA in Kathak, under my guidance. Some are working in theatre and in films too, while some have started their own classes and are also performing artists.

Your experience as a choreographer, particularly the dance drama on Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and other productions...
Apart from choreographing several dance dramas, I have also done dance direction for Hindi and Marathi movies. My production 'Mahamanav' was based on the life of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and was telecast by Mumbai Doordarshan couple of times as it created a great impact by spreading the message of Dr. Ambedkar. The cast included 70 performing artists from the age group of 4 - 80 years. I also choreographed 'Mrutyunjay Mahaveer' based on Jain dharma and life of Lord Mahaveer. 'Mahakaleshwar Shiva' is based on navarasa and I am the first in India to create 'Narvar Krishna Saman' based on Bal Gandharva's Marathi Natya Sangeet.

Which are the countries you have visited along with Panditji and what has been the experience performing in India and abroad?
I have been to Russia and Holland along with Shovana Narayan, to Kuwait with Uma Sharma, to USA and Russia with my mentor Pt. Birju Maharaj. I have performed in Japan, Malaysia and Thailand as well. I really enjoyed performing in these countries. The audience there is really different; they were amazed to see our team performing, bearing the weight of 100-150 ghungroos in each leg, and doing the chakkars (circular movements) while in Russia they perform on toes. The Russians and Japanese learnt some Kathak from us during this visit.

Your most memorable performance...
All my performances have given me unique learning experience and have created memories around it, hence it will be simply unfair to rate just any one of them. But still to recall, once I was having high fever and I had my performance that day. The doctor examined me in the green room and I still performed. That performance was also at par and appreciated by everyone.

Do you think marriage hinders the progress of an artist? Which role of yours is most important - son, teacher, choreographer, performer or organizer?
It differs from person to person and also mutual understanding of your life partner. If he / she is supportive, you can really do well. All the roles are important, god has given a purpose to everyone on this earth and we should do our job with sincerity and devotion.

Are you happy with your professional life?
All my dreams have come true. I really had a divine blessing that has fulfilled all my aspirations at an early age. I received National Scholarship from the Cultural Department Govt. of India in 1977-78 for learning Kathak dance under Pt. Birju Maharaj. I was the first male Kathak artist to receive such a scholarship from all over Maharashtra. I also received Ph.D. in Kathak dance through Tilak Maharashtra University, Pune, in 2005. I was the first and only disciple of Pt. Birju Maharaj in India who received Ph.D in Kathak dance. In 1983 I established my dance school, stepping into the field of Kathak dance training. My institution consists of a well equipped auditorium of its own that provides a ready platform to students to enhance and perform their art. My institution also provides hostel facilities to students. Apart from this the institute organizes many beneficial activities for the students such as Youth Festival for young and upcoming artists, Kathak dance seminars and dance festival for senior artists, workshops of prominent personalities etc along with lectures and demonstrations of other dance forms every year. I am also a recognized Ph.D. guide in Kathak dance for University of Pune and Tilak Maharashtra University. In 2006 I established Pt. Birju Maharaj Dance and Music Research Centre and Library consisting of hundreds of books related to dance and music for the benefit of students.

With Sitara Devi

In 2014, I established Kathak Queen Sitara Devi Art Museum and it was an honor to inaugurate the same in her presence. The museum has a unique collection of belongings like books, CDs, videos, ghungroos, ornaments and costumes that keep the memories alive of legendary artists in the minds of younger generation and inspire them. The book 'Kathak Samrat Birju Maharaj' authored by me has been recommended by Pune University and Tilak Maharashtra University as a reference book for various dance examinations. I have written numerous articles on dance which are published in various renowned magazines. I was selected for outstanding contribution and work in Kathak dance by Limca Book of Records for 1991-1994. I have received many prestigious awards and recently received Senior Fellowship 2015 from Ministry of Culture, Government of India. So, I am quite happy.

Your future plans / aspirations?
Dance is my life and as long as I live I wish to propagate and serve Kathak throughout my life across the globe. I wish to create more new productions and choreograph new subjects. I am doing and will continue to spread many more social messages through Kathak dance everywhere and take Kathak to new heights. My wish is to receive the Padma Award in the near future.

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