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Kathak Sandhya: A confluence of Kathak gharanas
- Sunil Sunkara

November 13, 2017

Kathak as a dance form is synonymous with the Indian ethos of 'Unity in Diversity'. In the course of its evolution in north and central India, it acquired various flavours based on region and the pravrittis or characteristics of the people. Thus not only within the broad classification of the gharanas, but even within the same gharana we see different perspectives of the same style. The dance form having always encouraged the individual persona, each propagator of Kathak adds his or her own individual thoughts and perspectives to his or her career. So when we see performances by artists who have spent a few decades in the field, the performance encompasses not just the training that they received from their gurus, but also their life experiences and journey in Kathak. This was experienced by the audience at the Kathak Sandhya at Ravindra Natya Mandir on Nov 5, 2017 when Mumbai's senior dancers Moli Siddharth, Nutan Patwardan, Ranjana Phadke and Mukta Joshi came together to present an evening of traditional Kathak.

The evening began with all 4 dancers coming together for a traditional Vishnu Vandana Shantakaram. Accompanied by the soulful singing of Somnath Mishra, it was a good start to the evening. This was followed by solo presentations by the four artists. Nutan Patwardhan, Ranjana Phadke and Moli Siddharth were accompanied by Amit Mishra on tabla, Somnath Mishra on vocal and harmonium and Sangeet Mishra on sarangi.

The solo presentations began with Nutan Patwardhan who presented an energetic taal Chautaal (12 beats). Having begun her Kathak training under Guru Maneesha Sathe in Pune, she continued her training under late Guru Madhurita Sarang in Mumbai. Since the last decade, she has been taking advanced training under Guru Shama Bhate. Various Tishra and Chatusra Jaati compositions of Guru Shama Bhate were presented by Nutan Patwardhan. An interesting element was the jugalbandhi between tabla and footwork where the dancer began the rhythmic phrase and the tabla completed it. She also presented the dheeralalita nature of Lord Krishna through a Kavitt. She was supported by strong padhant by Sheetal Kapole. She concluded her performance with a Thumri, Ghar naahi hamare Shyam in raag Nand and taal addha teentaal. Originally seen in the movie Sardari Begum, where it was sung by Aarti Ankalikar, this thumri based on the proshitpatika nayika (where one's beloved is away for work) has been written by Javed Akhtar. Beautifully interspersed with rhythmic sections, Nutan Patwardhan with her sweet abhinaya brought to stage some glimpses of the late Guru Madurita Sarang.

The next presentation was by Ranjana Phadke who presented a lively taal Rupak (7 beats). She has received training from Guru Maneesha Sathe and Guru Shama Bhate from Pune and late Guru Asha Joglekar in Mumbai. Accompanied by her student Tejashree Vaidya on padhant, Ranjana Phadke presented lively and bright compositions that suited the nature of taal Rupak. An interactive section of tihais based on the phrase 'Kata Dha' where Tejashree, Amit and Ranjana, each presented various impromptu versions of it was a rhythmic highlight. In contrast to the happy Rupak, she presented a gat bhaav based on the story of a victim of sexual molestation, in this case a young 16 year old girl. A very relevant subject in today's times, it was a very involved presentation by Ranjana. Most importantly, she ended on a positive note, where the victim decides to be strong and carry on her life without paying heed to the fact that traditional society had made her a social pariah for no fault of her own. This was portrayed through a geet 'Mujhe pankh de do, unche gagan mein udane ki asha, hatheli se baadal ko chhuune ke armaan, mujhko mitana hai in faasloko...'(give me wings, so that I fly and touch the clouds, give me wings that I may traverse these harsh distances). Sung by Tejashree, her young and sweet voice suited the song perfectly. The heart wrenching alaaps that accompanied the gat bhaav truly involved the audience with the tragic episode and were a testament to the experience Somnath Mishra has accompanying Kathak artists and creating the mood of a piece.

The third presentation was by Moli Siddharth. A disciple initially of late Guru Bela Arnab and Guru Maya Chatterjee from Kolkata, she continued her training in Mumbai under late Guru Damayanti Joshi. Since the last decade she has been taking guidance from Pt Birju Maharaj. She presented a traditional taal Teentaal (16 beats) with padhant done by her students Oindrilla and Trina. Beginning in vilambit laya she presented the traditional paran, aamad of the Lucknow gharana, Dhataka Thunga where she showed a ched-chad of Radha Krishna. This was a style of presentation that was developed by late Guru Lacchu Maharaj. Another interesting composition was where she used only the bol 'tigdha' to present an elaborate chakkardar tukda. Taking inspiration from Pt Birju Maharaj's inimitable style, she brought humour to the stage through a series of tihais. The audience had a good laugh when through a tihai she depicted the proposal style of three different men, a street Romeo, a gentleman and a young hipster. She also presented a rare kavitt on the navarasas composed by Guru Bela Arnab. Seeing that Odissi stalwarts Guru Jhelum Paranjape and Guru Ravindra Atibudhi were in the audience, she presented a tihai composed of Odissi style bols. She concluded her presentation with a gat bhaav on the episode of Draupadi Vastraharan. She gave a twist to the traditionally presented story by depicting the inner psychological emotions of Draupadi, through vaachikabhinaya in the form of a poetry written by her.

The final presentation of the evening was by Mukta Joshi, disciple of Guru Roshan Kumari of the Jaipur gharana. She presented taal Jhaptaal (10 beats). A unique feature was that using a lapel mike she simultaneously did padhant for all her compositions while performing them. Dressed in the anarkali costume with jacket style costume that was preferred by Guru Roshan Kumari, Mukta Joshi brought an old world charm to the stage and took the audience back in time. Untouched by popular adaptations in Kathak, she presented strong footwork and rhythm intensive compositions, typical to the traditional Jaipur gharana. She was accompanied on tabla and vocal by Kishore Patil and Abhijit Parnjkar on harmonium. Her energetic jumps and chakkars gave a much needed boost of energy to the audience. She further presented a short thumri based on the swadeenpatika naayika, Aaj Shyam more. She concluded with footwork in dhrut teentaal that showcased the virtuosity of her tatkaar. This took the entire evening to a high point.

As a finale, Mukta was joined by the other three dancers and together all of them presented the popular footwork challan 'Takita takita ghina'. Developed by Pt Birju Maharaj through his observation of Kathakali dancers, it is today one of the most popular footwork patterns in Kathak. Kathak Sandhya was attended by a large number of dancers from the Kathak fraternity who came to support the artists.

Based in Mumbai, Sunil Sunkara is a Kathak dancer with a PhD degree.