Monday, August 10, 2009

Millions of hearts still croon over Rekha’s kindling expressions in “inn ankhon ki masti mein”, or Madhubala’s graceful movements in “mohe panghat pe nandlaal”. But that beautiful, scintillating dance form, which attracted the aristocrats, the Nawabs, and the Jahanpanahs of the Mughal kingdom to the evening mehfils of the courtesans, is now on the verge of extinction. Fortunately, there are a few like Manjari Chaturvedi, who are making ceaseless efforts to keep the typically Mughal dance form of Darbari Kathak alive.

Manjari Chaturvedi, a leading exponent of the Indian Classical dance form of Kathak, recently rendered some beautifully choreographed compositions in the Darbari Kathak style, in Kamani Auditorium. ‘Nazo: An Ode to the Courtesan’ was conceptualised, choreographed, and performed by her, as an effort to keep the dying art form alive. She was accompanied by some notable musicians on stage, which included Radhika Chopra, a highly appreciated Ghazal singer from Delhi, and Zareena Beghum, the last alive Court singer, from Bilhera in Awadh. Also accompanying her were Qawwal Noor ul Hasan and team from Awadh, and instrumentalists from Delhi and Lucknow. “The gayiki of Classical Kathak and Darbari Kathak is very different. Darbari gayiki is much lighter, as it was mainly to appease the courtiers. Accordingly, the dance steps are kept simpler, devoid of the complexities intrinsic to Hindustani Shastriya nritya,” says Zareena Beghum.

Having received training in Classical Kathak from the age of thirteen, Manjari has traveled across the globe and delivered innumerable concerts. She incorporated the dance styles of various countries of Central Asia in her own, and carved a new dance form called Sufi Kathak. “I traveled all over the ‘Sufi Belt’, which begins from Turkey, Persia and stretches to India – Pakistan, studying their folk dance froms. I interacted with various artists and tried to learn about those traditions which are not documented, but are passed on only through the word of mouth,” Manjari said. “Sufism is the worship of the formless God. Deriving from that, Sufi Kathak is devoid of the mudras and forms, like the form of Krishna, or the form of Rama, which are inextricable to Kathak.”

Apart from training new dancers in Sufi and Darbari Kathak, Manjari is delivering as many concerts as possible to popularize these drowning traditions. “All my efforts are directed towards evoking in my audiences an interest in our heritage.” And the efforts are admirable. While `our folk and classical cultures are receiving considerable appreciation, one hopes the likes of Manjari would succeed in rescuing the flame of courtly traditions from being extinguished forever.