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Sindhu Festival 2018
- Veejay Sai
Photos: Sejas Mistry

April 27, 2018

The seventh edition of the Sindhu Festival was conducted successfully in Mumbai. A brainchild of Bharatanatyam dancer Vaibhav Arekar as a tribute to his mother, the festival has become a landmark one on the cultural calendar of Mumbai. This year the festival took place in three different venues over three days. This gave a glimpse of how varied Mumbai’s audiences were in different parts of the city. It also showed how much warmth and love they accepted the festival with.

The opening evening of the festival was at the Kashinath Ghanekar Auditorium in Thane. A little away from Mumbai city, the large auditorium was packed with rasikas from in and around the Thane district. The evening opened with Manipuri dancer Rina Devi and her troupe from Jagoi Marup, Imphal. The first piece of dance titled ‘Tha Nom’ was an abstract piece set to the music of Natasankirtana. As the four dancers glided onto the stage with their graceful movements, the beauty of the Manipuri dance form unfolded for everyone to enjoy. Notable was the rustic charm in the music of the Pena, a variation of the violin often used in Manipuri music. The main item was the ‘Vasanta Raas’. Lord Krishna with Radha and four Gopis meet on the banks of the Yamuna River and play the Raas to celebrate spring season. It was a sight to see as the Raas ends and Radha and Krishna are given a symbolic aarati on stage. Rina Devi and her troupe were received very well with a huge standing ovation from the audience.

Rina Devi and troupe

Vaibhav Arekar

This was followed by a solo Margam by Vaibhav Arekar. The performance began with mridangist Satish Krishnamurthy chanting the famous composition of ghatam vidwan Vikku Vinayakram dedicated to Kanchi Paramacharya. It might have been the bad sound system balancing that affected this opening; the chant didn’t convey the vibrancy with which it is meant to be heard. This was suffixed with a ‘Pillayar Stuti’ in praise of lord Ganesha composed by the late nattuvanar Kadirvelu Pillai. It was a delight to watch Pillai’s son Kalishwaran Pillai performing the nattuvangam. He is easily one of the finest young nattuvanars in the Mumbai dance scene.

In ‘Sarojakshiro  na  saaminievela, sarasaku  thodi  thevey’, the famous Swarajathi in Yadukula Kamboji by Ponnaiah Pillai of Thanjavur Quartet, from the very beginning the melody of Yadukula Kamboji by Ravi Anantaraman’s violin set the mood for the rest of the evening. The angst of a distraught nayika in her pining for lord Brihadeeswara comes through in her coaxing her sakhi to beckon the lord. ‘Maarudu Sharamuna’, she says, speaking of the countless arrows of cupid that are tormenting her. Vaibhav’s performance was stellar. Without overt feminine mannerisms which many male dancers do, Vaibhav portrayed the nayika’s pining. Bangalore Raghuraman’s vocals in the upper octave added to the dramatic effort in the music. Satish Krishnamurthy’s resounding mridangam showed the work of a highly talented craftsman. Vaibhav continued his performance with the famous ‘Shibashita’ evoking hasya rasa and a Thillana.

The second day of the festival was held at the Yashwant Rao Chavan Natyagruha. The evening began with a thematic Kathak performance titled ‘Pratibimba’ by Kolkata based Ashim Bandhu Bhattacharya and his group. Ashim decided to use an audiovisual backdrop to his performance. What began with the story of a little boy who gets attracted by the sounds of temple bells soon wandered off onto another track without any sense of pause or transition. Being neither pure Kathak in its form and content, nor contemporary in its presentation, Ashim and his group’s performance was a let down. Soon we saw an excerpt of Mirza Ghalib’s poetry as the audiovisual behind showed us ruins of old Delhi. Ashim himself dressed in a long black robe sauntered on to the stage rather dramatically. In the little bits of footwork he showed, he ended up missing the basic taal. From there the performance continued into a medley of songs of courtesans in a Kotha. The backdrop had filmy visuals from the likes of Umrao Jaan. A snatch of Begum Akhtar singing ‘Wo jo ham me tum me qaraar  tha’ soon clashed into another nondescript tune before landing on ‘Yaad piya ki  aaye’. This courtesan khichidi continued as long as Ashim and his group did their contemporary Kathak. Ashim even announced that he was performing in Mumbai after a decade or so. He could have put up a better show rather than this patchwork.

Ashim Bandhu Bhattacharya and group

Sujatha Nair

This was followed by a solo Bharatanatyam recital by Mumbai based Sujatha Nair, daughter and student of Jayashri Nair. Knitting together a number of compositions in praise of lord Krishna, Sujatha called her thematic presentation ‘Krishnagatha’. Sujatha’s long resume was announced saying she was both a Mohiniattam dancer and a Bharatanatyam dancer. Going by her presentation, one could say she was rather out of practice in her Bharatanatyam. The Krishnagatha had a Bhajan, a Telugu padam by Muvalur Sabhapatayya, a Dharmapuri Javali, a Kshetrayya Padam ‘Choodare’ in ragam Sahana and the famous ‘Krishna nee begane baro’. From the beginning, the mridangam and nattuvangam were in different srutis and talams, and the singer Sivaprasad not in great form, added to the chaotic effect. As for the dance of Sujatha, one had to figure out what her basic sthayi bhaavam was. She seemed to be in a hurry to convey many things and yet none of them were said properly – abhinaya or any aspects of nritta.

Ode to Chatrapathi Shivaji
The last day of the Sindhu festival was conducted at the newly built Bala Gandharva Auditorium in Bandra. Vaibhav and his Sankhya group of dancers presented ‘Shrimant Yogi’, a production based on the life of the famous Maratha ruler Chatrapathi Shivaji. At the outset, Vaibhav mentioned that this was a production commissioned by the Natyarangam festival in Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai. He reworked parts of it and made it a complete production.

The morning show began with a traditional Powada singer Yashwant Jhadhav singing songs in praise of Chatrapathi Shivaji. A sand artist kept the audience thrilled with his art displayed on a screen at the far end of the stage. Vaibhav announced that the production was neither biographical in nature nor anecdotal or episodic. The whole idea was to look at the life of Shivaji as a Karma Yogi. The title ‘Shrimant Yogi’ was given to Shivaji by the saint Samarth Ramadas. There are letters he wrote to the king which have been well documented and preserved.

Sankhya dancers in Shrimant Yogi

In the course of the performance we saw various episodes set perfectly through crisp choreography. The brutality of Mughal invaders, the crumbling of ancient temples, the enslavement of local populations, the birth of Hindavi Swarajya, the various wars for independence fought and so forth. Vaibhav’s subtle choreographic ideas shone bright. To show Shivaji’s army, his usage of a thin saffron waistband did it all. The group of talented and hard working Sankhya dancers Esha Pingle, Ruta Gokhale, Gautam Marathe and Sachhidanand Narayankar gave their best. Swarada Datar Bhave in the role of mother Jijabai putting a toddler Shivaji to bed was one of the more moving episodes. She lays down a bed of soft flowers and sings a lullaby, all along knowing and reminding her son, that one day will come when he has to defend his country against invaders and enemies. The role it seems was fit perfect for Swarada’s nuanced abhinayam. Taking motifs from Kalaripayattu, we saw warriors strut across stage displaying their bravado in the war sequences. Vaibhav in the role of Shivaji was exemplary. His sense of aesthetics in showing ‘less is more’ shone through the performance.

In the life of Shivaji, there comes a point when he wants to give up everything and renounce the world. He becomes a devotee of Samarth Ramadas and roams around with him. After a while the guru asks for Dakshina and says he must return to his duty as a ruler; that his actual duty was to save his motherland and protect her citizens; that he was a Karma Yogi in his actual course of life and action. These points depicting the inner spiritual conflict of Shivaji were conveyed effectively by Vaibhav. With original music scored by the likes of Pt Hridayanath Mangeshkar and Manoj Desai, rhythm by Satish Krishnamurthy, poetry inspired from the writings of Kusumagraj, Kavi Bhushan, Sant Ramdas and Subramania Bharati, the production stood out for its stellar qualities. Sushant Jadhav’s lighting is a master touch of its own. By the end of the performance the entire packed hall was ecstatic, to say the least! ‘Shrimant Yogi’ stood out for its brilliant production qualities as a dance-theatre performance. Everyone interested in the life and times of the great Maratha ruler must watch this at least once.

This was an apt and a resounding success of a conclusion to yet another Sindhu Festival. Thanks to a well organized festival like Sindhu, the cultural calendar of Mumbai has yet another gem of an event to be proud of year after year! 

Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and a culture critic.