OMC Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival 2018
- Lalitha Venkat
Photos courtesy: Srjan
September 17, 2018
In a city of festivals, the annual OMC Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival (the title sponsor is Odisha Mining Corporation - OMC), organized by Srjan is a landmark festival eagerly awaited by the dance and music connoisseurs of Bhubaneswar for its meticulous organization. The variety of dance and music programs features renowned and upcoming artistes over five evenings at Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar. Starting with a single-day festival in 1995 on Sept 3 - Founder's Day - the Award Festival commenced from Sept 5 from 1996 onwards and the fixed dates now every year is from Sept 5 to 9. Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra graced the festival with his presence till 2004, after which his son Ratikant Mohapatra carries on the tradition meticulously.
What is the motivation to continue the festival year after year? Says Ratikant Mohapatra, "In Bhubaneswar, there's an overdose of Odissi. So the aim is to invite artistes of various dance styles and renowned musicians from across India to expose the Odisha audience to varied art forms and classical styles of the highest level. We aspire to sensitise captive audiences, especially the younger section and students, so that an enthusiasm for the subtle flavours of classicism is planted in them." And one can indeed see the audience appreciation in no small measure.
The 24th edition of OMC Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival opened to a much applauded erudite talk by Professor Ganeshi Lal, the Governor of Odisha.
The festival took off with a solo Odissi performance by Rajashri Praharaj, lead dancer of the Srjan Repertory. She commenced her recital with a Pushpanjali followed by pure dance in Hamsadhwani Pallavi choreographed by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra to the music of Pt. Bhubaneswar Mishra. The piece displayed her technical virtuosity. Her attractive sea green costume with dark blue border stood out against the aesthetic backdrop modelled like the carved base of the natya mandap of the Konark sun temple. Her Sita Haran from Ramcharitamanas choreographed by Kelubabu to music by Pt Raghunath Panigrahi was captivating from start to finish. Dramatic lighting highlighted the sage showing his true identity as Ravana. The histrionics of Jatayu's wings being cut was evocatively portrayed. Despite Rajashri's petite stature, it was a power packed performance with excellent abhinaya in which her nuanced portrayal of the varied characters of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Ravana and Jatayu were distinctly interpreted. The distinguished orchestra accompanying her included Guru Ratikant Mohapatra on mardala, Ramesh Chandra Das and Agnimitra Behera on the violin, Srinibas Satapathy on flute, Rupak Kumar Parida on vocal and Ekalavya Muduli on manjira.
The Carnatic music jugalbandi by the husband-wife duo of Dr. Jayanthi Kumaresh on the veena and R. Kumaresh on the violin - two of the foremost instrumentalists in their respective fields - was soulful and enchanting. This was Kumaresh's second appearance in this festival. He said "it is always special when an artiste himself puts together such a beautiful festival." Among the numbers they presented exploring the intricacies of both instruments were Thyagaraja's composition in Mohanam and a composition in Naatai specially designed for the combination strings. They were accompanied by Jayachandra Rao and Krishnaswami Sankararaman on the mridangam and ghatam respectively. It was indeed a befitting start to the festival.
Day two witnessed yet another beautiful blend of dance and music, with a vocal rendition of Geeta Govind by Parthasarathi Panigrahi and a Kuchipudi duet by Vyjayanthi and Prateeksha Kashi. Parthasarathi known popularly as Baboo Panigrahi is the son of Odissi dancer Sanjukta Panigrahi and composer Pt Raghunath Panigrahi, and is a well known ghazal and light music singer. His soulful rendition of the ashtapadis Srita kamala, Dheere sameere, Maamiyam chalita composed by his father, concluding with a bhajan on Durga was well appreciated by the audience. This type of music rendition was a first for Panigrahi and it clicked. His distinguished co-musicians were Bibhu Prasad Tripathy on the keyboard, Dushmant Parida on tabla, Rabi Narayan Barik on manjira, Srinibas Satpathy on flute and Agnimitra Behera on violin.
The mother-daughter duo of Vyjayanthi Kashi and Prateeksha Kashi from Bangalore presented Antaranga Taranga with focus on vatsalya bhava of various shades. The piece explored the vatsalya rasa between god and devotee through the story of Lord Narasimha and Prahlada, through a composition on Lord Narasimha from Narayana Teertha's Krishna Leela Tarangini set to ragamalika and talamalika. The love of a nurturing mother is unconditional. The popular Jagadoddharana of Purandaradasa portrays the vatsalya rasa between mother Yashoda and son Krishna. Yashoda is not the actual mother of Krishna, but her unconditional love for him is heart warming, brought out beautifully by Vyjayanthi Kashi.
In Sita's mother Bhumi, one sees the epitome of motherly love. In Bhumi Sita specially choreographed for the festival, Bhumi acts as a sutradhar, a connector of the various happenings in the life of her daughter Sita - Sita's swayamvaram, Ravana episode, abduction, reunion of Rama and Sita, the doubt over her chastity and separation again were dealt with. The interspersed English narrative was neatly edited and to the point as Vyjayanthi played Bhumi narrating her feelings towards her daughter through the various phases of her life. Prateeksha as Sita gave an elegant performance and the final scene shows her return to the womb of her mother. It was a poignant moment as Sita lay her head down in weariness on the lap of her mother, leaving many in the audience with moist eyes, before they erupted into thunderous applause and a standing ovation. It was a graceful and elegant presentation of the much loved Sita story. Young vocalists Aishwariya Nityananda and Akhila Pajimanu stole the show with their sweet voices. Anil Iyer on nattuvangam, Tumkur B Shashishankara on the mridangam, KS Jayaram on the flute and NV Vishwanath on the violin added to the appeal of the music ensemble.
Ratikant Mohapatra aims to present at least one evening devoted to music of various genre and day three saw the popular Bangalore-based contemporary Carnatic and progressive metal band, Agam (meaning "inner-self" in Tamil). The band is led by Harish Sivaramakrishnan on vocals, with Swamy Seetharaman on keyboards, Praveen Kumar on lead guitar, Aditya Kashyap on bass guitar and backing vocals, Sivakumar Nagarajan on ethnic percussion, Jagadish Natarajan on rhythm guitar and Yadhunandan on drums. Nikhil V. Pai was their sound engineer. Harish pointed out that, "We do not attempt to present a fusion of styles as this would mean adapting an aesthetic blend of both the idioms. We try to stay true to the identity of both genres."
Starting with Om Ganaanaam Ganapathim, the band presented tracks from their albums, 'The Inner Self Awakens' and 'A Dream to Remember', with numbers such as Brahma's Dance, Swati Thirunal's Dhanasri Thillana (usually performed in dance), Onwards and Upwards based on Subramanyena rakshitoham by Muthuswami Dikshitar in Shuddha Dhanyasi, Rangapura Vihaara made popular by MS Subbulakshmi, Celestial Nymph in raga Ahiri (a Mohiniattam number), Swans of Saraswati in Shuddha Sarang in which heavy metal guitarist Praveen wowed the audience by playing complex Carnatic rhythms, Mist of Capricorn, a Mehdi Hassan ghazal in Charukesi and the evergreen Aaj jaane ki zid na karo of Begum Farida Khanum. The songs were in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi and Harish's voice soared on the high notes, he being a classically trained singer for many years. With the exception of professional musician Yadunandan, the band members are all software professionals coming together over their love for music. Carnatic classical music and heavy metal came together in a spectacular musical treat keeping the audience enthralled for two hours and the band got a standing ovation.
The fourth evening saw captivating Kathak by Pt Rajendra Gangani and spell binding Carnatic violin by Ambi Subramaniam to gladden the hearts of the rasikas. Pt Rajendra Gangani, one of the leading practitioners of the Jaipur Gharana style of Kathak, started his recital by paying obeisance to Lord Jagannath, followed by Durga Stuti by Guru Gobind Singh, portraying the power and grandeur of Goddess Durga. He also presented teen tal, thaat, utaan - a composition of his father and Guru Kundanlal Gangani - Ganesh paran, paran called 'the journey of dha', tihai, drut laya. For abhinaya, he chose Jayadeva's ashtapadi Srita Kamala Kuccha Mandala, dedicated to Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, saying that it is a challenge to portray it in Kathak style. The captivating item on Krishna showed the gathering clouds, lightning and rain with the peacock dancing in joy. The ched chad of Krishna and Radha was an enjoyable item. Clad in a simple off white costume with minimum embellishment, Gangani danced joyously with poise and dignity and thrilled the audience, but he did overshoot his time limit by 20 minutes! He was accompanied by Yogesh Gangani on the tabla, Samiullah Khan on vocal, Ayyub Khan on sarangi and Ravi Shankar Sharma on sitar.
Ambi Subramaniam has earlier performed in the festival along with his eminent father violinist L Subramaniam. In his solo recital, he did his father proud by getting a standing ovation for his sensitive and spellbinding performance. He presented compositions from traditional Carnatic repertoire - "Sadaa manadil" in praise of lord Ganesha composed by his father in ragam Abhogi, a composition of Thyagaraja and one in Kapi in praise of Krishna. He was ably accompanied on the mridangam by V.V. Ramanamurthy and on morsing by Satyasai Ghantasala. When he was 16, Ambi was proclaimed the 'New King of Indian Classical Music' by the Times of India.
The final evening was devoted to the award ceremony and a premiere by Srjan Repertory. The Award sponsor is National Aluminium Company (NALCO). It was indeed a starry evening as the chief guest was actress Hema Malini. This year, the jury of the OMC Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival presented the NALCO Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award (with a cash prize of Rs.1 lakh to each artiste and a citation) to 84 year old Dr. Sachi Das for his contribution to the field of Theatre and Dramatics and to Guru Lingaraj Behera for his immense contribution to Odissi dance. The NALCO Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Yuva Prativa Samman carrying a cash prize of Rs. 25,000 each, was presented to four meritorious young artistes in the area of classical dances and Odissi music for their continuous outstanding performances - Sonali Mohapatra (Bhubaneswar) and Subikash Mukherjee (Kolkata) for Odissi dance, Swati Sinha (New Delhi) for Kathak and Rohan Suresh Dahale (Mumbai) for Odissi music. For Subikash, the award was like the Bharat Ratna. Rohan said as an accompanist, he never dreamt he would get an award and for him it was like a lifetime achievement award!
The book 'Dancing into Eternity - An endearing view of his multifaceted life and work: Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra' published by Ratikant Mohapatra, Director, Srjan, was released by Hema Malini to much applause. The book is a pictorial history of the life and times of Kelubabu interspersed with articles by his numerous disciples and well wishers, in memory of his wondrous qualities, sharing their experiences with him. Hema Malini spoke about her association with Kelubabu and Srjan much to the delight of the audience. She recollected how Kelubabu would welcome her, take her to the prayer room, give her lunch, their discussions on dance and her memorable performance with him in Mumbai.
The evening concluded with the much-awaited Odissi performance by eight dancers of the Srjan repertory who presented two new choreographies by Guru Ratikant Mohapatra. 'Kirvani Madhurima' was a neo-classical innovation and an amalgam of traditional Odissi with contemporary music based on raga Kirwani, originally composed by Dr. Vizarsu Balasubramanium. The script by Pt. Nityananda Misra is an exact translation of the Telugu script into Sanskrit. This brief experimental piece used karanas from Natya Shastra and still poses morphed into different interesting sequences of movements. Says Ratikant, "While it continues to have the distinct character of a traditional Odissi choreograph, there are elements of contemporary dance expression which are used to heighten the appeal of novelty. By creating an amalgam of the classical and the contemporary, we have carefully introduced elements in both the music and the movements, which sustain its very own individual dramatic impact. As it were, a dressing up of the Odissi soul and body with colours that are new, easily identifiable, and memorable."
'Maati' was based on an inspiring and popular poem by the iconic Odia poet Radha Mohan Gadanayak, with music by Laxmikant Palit and script adaptation by Jaydev Das. When Creation happened, the disparate elements of the sky, the sun, the moon, the clouds, and the wind had a demand for a special position. Sky wanted to be on top and enjoy superiority. Surya wanted the space in the sky to move around. Moon wanted the same space to move around at night. Cloud did not want anything to be seen when it was around. Wind wanted all to be masked when it blew. Each element had an exaggerated view of its own importance, asking for a superior place in the hierarchy of being. Only the earth remained silent and when asked by the Creator, says any place assigned to her is fine. What about the onslaught of beast and man? "I am immovable and I can bear anything" says earth and the Creator declares her queen of the universe. Only a mother is capable of bearing everything and hence she is 'Maati.'
"The inspiration is to present a new subject every year and Jaydev Das who is a theater person, helps in locating a subject and give suggestions. What connects to the audience is the theme and speed. Without going out of the framework of classicism, to create something to connect to the 80% of audience who are lay people is the challenge. We do not use different costumes to portray characters. In Bhubaneswar, there is an Odissi overdose, so we design our production in a different way but stay within the classicism. So we call it neo-classical. I try to humbly add something new to Guruji's body of work," explains Ratikant Mohapatra.
Clad in beautiful green and rust costumes, dancers Rajashri Praharaj, Ritu Sengupta, Pragna Parimita Das, Riyanka Chakrabarty, Aishwariya Singhdev, Sipra Swain, Maya Krishnamurty, Preetisha Mohapatra and Reebdhita Barua presented this interesting composition with great energy and synchronization, the choreography embellished with a number of versatile movements. Maati ended with a dramatic sequence and a standing ovation. Lights by Debiprasad Mishra contributed to the appeal of the production.
The pleasant announcements by Mrityunjay Rath and superb sound control by Anand from Singapore, along with excellent lighting added to the appeal of the festival. The Srjan team headed by Ratikant Mohapatra and Debiprasad Mishra are to be congratulated for yet another successful edition of the festival. Next year is special as it will be the 25th year of the Award festival.
Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of www.narthaki.com