- Ashish Mohan Khokar
February 22, 2014
Sharmistha Mukherjee has been a low-key dancer of Kathak for last 30 years almost. As First Daughter of the country now, she has avoided limelight for years and never dined out of her VVVIP family status, though it always follows her! Her dance has seen many cuts and bends. First, her first guru - the great Pt. Durgalal - died when he was very young and she barely in her teens. Then she tried a variety of gurus who helped her evolve in her learning like gurus Uma Sharma and Rajendra Gangani. Today, Sharmistha has carved out a niche for herself in dance. Her latest work - Forest of Bliss: Benaras - shown to a full FICCI house in Delhi on 15th Feb, was attended by Who's Who of Delhi's power world: Ex CM's and current PM's wife; her mother, the First Lady, who is herself a dancer-painter of yore and top bureaucrats also came, plus many more of the smart-set of the capital city. And what did she bring to stage?
Benaras. She created a montage of dance and films to bring out the essence, the spirit of the city. She did this almost effortlessly with a well-trained group of freelance dancers, all girls, no male energy. Benaras being very Shiva specific, this absence of male energy was felt, although the film sequences (she had made a film on the city few years ago) brought out cityscapes and its various manifestations. In items like Gawdaulia Chowk, the urban mess that most Indian cities are now and Benaras delights in, came about humourously. She used Kathak tatkars, todas, tukdas and chals to depict traffic snarls, fights and urban angst. Each item opened with a film sequence on Benaras that contextualised the theme and this worked as a clever ploy that did not cloy.
The opening item was grand (The City of Shiva) with superb lights and smoke effect by Modern Stage Service. All girls in group danced uniformly and with cohesion. The item Manikarnika, with ground lights from sides just focussing on footwork was reminiscent of Kumudini Lakhia's Atah Kim production, in which no less than Keshav Kothari had done similar light design. Sharmistha donned the central role in few select items only and thus did not dominate the stage all through the evening, a pitfall many established star and senior dancers often suffer from. She showed her proficiency in Kathak and choreography. To dance and be a choreographer at the same time is not easy. Sharmistha Mukherjee has succeeded in both and that's quite a feat in historical context and contrast when one has seen seniors like Chandralekha, Kumudini who did not dance when they choreographed. Only a Master like Birju Maharaj now and Ram Gopal, Uday Shankar, Gopinath could do this. Her sitting bhaav batana item - Eternal Melodies - an expressional piece done sitting on stage as in old mehfil style, was meaningfully emoted to the evergreen thumri Russ ke bhare torre nain..mausse garva laga re immortalised by Siddheswari Devi, of Benaras again. In Sharmistha's rendition and limited sancharis, the meaning came through convincingly.
Sharmistha has a pleasing personality on stage with an almost bindaas attitude. An ever-smiling face is her best asset on stage. Sharmistha has come a long way when she was rudderless and searching for meaning in her art. Having made benchmark TV dance films like Tal-Mel and Beyond Tradition she now has a new, confident stage personality. That her work has professionalism and substance is an additive.
Compere Dr. Shilpa Khatri tried valiantly to make sense of words she had never heard of! Like Ariyakudi (split in two!); genre (became yanre) and collage became college! English is obviously not her métier. She remained less than professional all through the evening and came across as fit for college level festival announcements, additionally giving instant reviews after each item ("Wasn’t that wonderful, please clap!"). Dancers Shivani Salhotra Varma and Samiksha Sharma stood out in group while others like Tripti, Anjana, Dipti and Siddhi performed harmoniously. Music score by Abhishek Mathur, Suhail Yusuf Kahn and Ujjwal Nagar remained of high merit and the group showed team work is possible. Sharmistha has come of age as a dancer-choreographer.
Ashish Mohan Khokar is well known for his dance writing, research, critiquing and documentation. He has authored over 40 books on Indian arts and heritage and mentors many festivals and talents, nationally and internationally. Detailed bio on www.attendance-india.com