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Cello meets Kathak at the Nrityanidhi Baithak
- Sunil Sunkara

November 20, 2017

A baithak or chamber concert has traditionally been favoured by Kathak rasiks as they give chance for the dancer to display and the viewer to enjoy the more subtle nuances of the art. Shoma Kaikini's Nrityanidhi in Mumbai has been organizing such baithaks in order to recreate those days of yore. No mikes, minimum light and close proximity to the audience creates an intimate setting for rasikas. Organized in the Nrityanidhi studio on 12 Nov 2017, a flower decked hall, personal welcome to each rasika and a meditative atmosphere where mobile phones are banned, ensured that Nrityanidhi created a space that instantly takes the rasika away from the hustle of Mumbai.

A unique twist was that instead of the usual tatavadyas like sitar and sarangi that accompany a Kathak concert, it featured the cello. In the past violin and mandolin were successfully adapted into mainstream Indian classical music. Cellist Jake Charkey took training under Guru N Rajam in order to adapt the cello to the Indian classical form and collaborated with Shoma in order to bring the instrument into the realms of Kathak. Vocal and tabla support was given by Amit Mishra.

The baithak began with a brief alaap on the cello, followed by presentation of vilambit teentaal by Shoma. The cello with its bass sound added gravitas to the lehera making it more gambhir and this was also reflected in the thairaav with which Shoma presented thaat and upaj. It was a highlight of the evening. This was followed by a cello and Kathak jugalbandi in raag Darbari presented by Jake and Amit. Shoma further presented nritta in teentaal accompanied by Ashwini Kaikini on padhant and a soulful Ram bhajan, "Payojimaine Ram ratan dhan paayo."

Jake presented the bandish "Ghhei chhandmakarand." a difficult and popular composition from the Marathi natya-sangeet 'Katyar Kaljaat Ghusli'. The violin is known to imitate the human vocal chords and Jake was reminiscent of Guru N Rajam when he performed this piece. This was followed by a proshitpatika nayika presented by Shoma in a geet played by Jake. This was a highlight where the feeling of longing was conveyed in a subtle but effective manner that was perfect for the baithak ambience. All in all, the Nrityanidhi baithak was a unique experience that one should recommend others to experience.

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