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A tribute to Kathak dancer Veeru Krishna
- Vijay Shanker

September 17, 2019

Veteran Kathak dancer and mentor Veeru Krishna Tiwari died on September 7, 2019 in Santa Cruz in Mumbai due to age related illness. Although Veeru could not rise as a Kathak dancer, he made a name for himself as a mentor and as an actor too in Bollywood films. He was in his 70s and leaves behind his family.

As a young boy from Madhya Pradesh, Veeru ran away from his hometown and arrived in the city of dreams, Mumbai. He ran away as he was unable to bear the exploitation and nobody really understood his passion for dancing. As a young good looking boy blessed with soft features, Veeru started as a dancer in 'Londa nach' (boys disguised as female dancers) which was quite prevalent in social circles in northern India wherein young boys would dress as females in order to entertain wealthy people; many at times would be mentally and physically exploited too. Against all adversity, Veeru somehow started to survive in Mumbai.

Jayanthimala, Kathak dancer and disciple / daughter of the legendary Sitara Devi says, "Veeru was like an elder brother for us. He would take care of us, particularly when mother was busy with dance programs. In some function, Veeru met Sitara Devi and that is how it all began, when he expressed his desire to learn Kathak. Initially he was taught, but later he was advised to seek guidance from the veteran mentor and Kathak exponent Chaube Maharaj. It was not easy for Veeru to survive in Mumbai. He disguised himself as 'Veeru Bala' and would perform Mujra and cabaret too for commercial establishments. As young children, my sister Priya and I could hardly recognize him, as he changed completely and was quite attractive as a female. Nevertheless, he could not go far as a Kathak dancer, as he could not grasp the purity and technical quality of Kathak dance. Whenever he danced he would have the typical 'jhatkas' which is not approved in classical format but used in movies in order to attract the mass and not the class. Thereby he became quite successful as a mentor for would-be actors."

Veeru was quite successful as a comic actor doing novel roles. He has acted in some of the films of Aamir Khan like the blockbuster 'Raja Hindustani' (1990s) in the role of Gulam Singh, 'Hum Hai Rahi Pyar Ke,' 'Dulhe Raja,' 'Ishq' and 'Mela.' He shared screen space with some top actors like Aamir Khan, Juhi Chawla and Karishma Kapoor. Some of his disciples include Priyanka Chopra. Katrina Kaif described him as the "best teacher." Due to his exposure in Bollywood films, he could attract the attention of many would-be stars and charge hefty fees for his dance lessons. I believe his son is also into music and dance. May his soul rest in peace.

Vijay Shanker is a Kuchipudi and Kathakali exponent, teacher, bilingual journalist, arts critic and actor.

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