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Shruti Mandal heralds half a century of service to Indian Arts
Photos courtesy: Shruti Mandal

March 9, 2017

I recollect how in 1964, eyes shining with fiery plans for spreading art knowhow in Rajasthan, particularly Jaipur, Kaushal Bhargav had in a private conversation told me about how he had started Shruti Mandal in Jaipur with the patronage of a prosperous local business magnate - late Prakash Chand Surana who shared his love for the arts. For Kaushal Bhargav, a bachelor who spent all his life's efforts in the cause of creating and spreading art, any production on the theme of Rajasthan, the land, the tableaux, getting group dance scenes of dances of Rajasthan, presenting classical dances before the general population, exchanging ideas with Jaspal Singh who headed the cultural unit of Ashok Hotel, was forever engaged in myriad art spreading activities.

He started the Uday Shankar festival in Jaipur and one remembers the early instances when a variety of dances were featured in different venues. Going through the fifty year activities documented in their publication 'Adi sadi ka sunahara safar' is like going through a who's who of the Indian performing arts world. It is replete with photographs of archival value - a very youthful Yamini Krishnamurti, Sonal Mansingh, Uma Sharma, or a young Basavarajaguru or Sharan Rani Mathur, or a boyish Vijay Kichlu -all in the starting years of their career looking at you in these pages. There were, I remember, in Jaipur of those days, the odd few art scholars like Komal Kothari who were engaged in doing very detailed, sophisticated research while providing patronage and working with Rajasthan's (what have now become) world famous musical families - the Manganiyars and the Langas. Kaushal Bhargav's efforts were more for the general public and his contribution to Rajasthan's art encouragement is highly valued today. Shruti Mandal, now celebrating fifty years of work in promoting art, remembers with a deep sense of gratitude the pioneering zeal and guidance provided to their organization by the founder, Kaushal Bhargav.

Amidst all the changes, some things remain the same. It is still the same family of Surana enthusiasts who provide financial succor and head Shruti Mandal's working committee. Shobha Devi Surana is the patron while the director and deputy director are Chandra Kumar Surana and Pracheer Surana respectively. There are several other working members on the committee and the organization today runs on the round-the-clock efforts and legwork of a now much older founder member Rammohan.

Priya Venkataraman

Manjiri Kiran

After years of not being able to attend the Uday Shankar festival mounted by Shruti Mandal, visiting this year's celebration, had memories come rushing back, making one realize that Kaushal Bhargav's now missing discerning role would have made a great difference to the mixed fare provided in the event. After Priya Venkataraman's Bharatanatyam curtain raiser, at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan auditorium, the local Kathak dancer Manjiri Kiran, a disciple of Rohini Bhate, presented a Kathak recital performed to rather indifferently recorded music. For this dance form, if nothing else at least live tabla is a must and particularly after the earlier Bharatanatyam program's extremely well equipped live musical accompaniment, a lone Kathak dancer doing nondescript abhinaya to Geetanjali verses (the recitation of which on tape went unheard) made the stage seem particularly empty. The small group of dancers who danced to what was announced as the dancer's own translation into movement, of music played on typical Rajasthani instruments like morsang, khartal etc, was also rather patchy. The redeeming part of the recital was the final traditional sequence with the disciples presenting a few tukras, tatkar, and a 'takita takita dhin' finale with footwork. From Rajasthan, the home of Jaipur gharana Kathak, one expected more.

The second evening began with a recital by Bhavana Reddy, the talented second daughter of the Reddys of Kuchipudi fame. While the dancer's grasp over laya and movement are commendable, one could not understand an entire Kuchipudi program done to Sufi poetry and Hindustani music. That the guru had been guided by communicating an Andhra form to the Jaipur audience through music set to poetry in a familiar language was understandable. But for this critic, no matter how faithful the movement grammar of the performer, the musical tone when altered changes the tone of the dance form which owes so much to its melodic counterpart. One item based on Hindi or Urdu sahitya to please the audience would have been fine. Why not present to non Andhra audiences the full blooded nature of Kuchipudi in its traditional form? The fact that it is often presented, for me does not seem reason enough to have a Sufi Kuchipudi program - and with words like "prem ki rang me doobi…." or with nayika speaking of "Sasson ki..gati," "mose naina milaki" there is an unconscious flavour patented in cinema, which comes in, with the sighs and heaves. Kuchipudi today is crying out for really good dancers and with the abilities of Bhavana, traditional Kuchipudi would gain. In Jog and Hamsadhwani the Ganapati Vandana and the Bhairavi Tarana, a favourite of the Reddys, provided the start and the finish to the recital.

Bhavana Reddy

Gokulsree Dass

After the very spirited live music accompaniment for Kuchipudi, again the second performer in Odissi who danced to recorded music, saw the entire audience leave with just a handful of viewers remaining in the auditorium. Sad for Gokulsree Dass, a disciple of Guru Durgacharan Ranbir and a competent dancer with good command over nritta and gifted with an expressive face. Dashavatar based on Geeta Govinda verses brought out the changing attitudes in different manifestations very effectively - the dwarflike Vamana, the calm nature of Rama, the savage nature of Narasimha's attack etc. Similarly in the ashtapadi "Rase harimiha vilita vilasam" (choreographed by Sujata Misra who belongs to the same Debaprasad school of Odissi), the dancer was communicative in portraying forlorn Radha, and also persuasive was the next abhinaya item "Kilo sajani keli kadambamule." But two mimetic items on recorded music depleted the audience further in the auditorium. Ashta Shambho, one of Debaprasad's fine creations was performed with enthusiasm.

The indifferent compering, barring the Hindi introductions for Sufi poetry in Kuchipudi, did not contribute towards better understanding of the dance for the audience. The warmth of welcome, enthusiasm and extreme goodwill are all still the same. But sorely missing in Shruti Mandal is the art discerning guidance, providing for a more even toned festival.

Writing on the dance scene for the last forty years, Leela Venkataraman's incisive comments on performances of all dance forms, participation in dance discussions both in India and abroad, and as a regular contributor to Hindu Friday Review, journals like Sruti and Nartanam, makes her voice respected for its balanced critiquing. She is the author of several books like Indian Classical dance: Tradition in Transition, Classical Dance in India and Indian Classical dance: The Renaissance and Beyond.

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