118 years of trust
Chandigarh, Friday, October 2, 1998

The grand belle of Kathak
By Nonika Singh
ON stage attired in the traditional Kathak garb, bejewelled and an epitome of grace and poise with her scintillating foot work and rhythmic expositions, Shovana Narayan, Padamshri recipient, is indeed the prima donna, the grand bella of Kathak.

Nafisa: From ‘Junoon’ to ‘Major Saab’
By A.S. Prashar
NAFISA Ali makes no bones about the fact she is getting along in years. A former Miss India and a one-time swimming champion, Nafisa is now a mother of three.

Art piece crying for research
By D.C. Sharma
IN the ruined ancient Kangra fort, some glorious relics are still enticing. One such piece is an antique stone image of Lord Vishnu sitting on the Garuda, his holy steed.

Audioscan by ASC


The grand belle of Kathak
By Nonika Singh

ON stage attired in the traditional Kathak garb, bejewelled and an epitome of grace and poise with her scintillating foot work and rhythmic expositions, Shovana Narayan, Padamshri recipient, is indeed the prima donna, the grand bella of Kathak.

Off stage, retiring in her UT guest house room, a day after her performance at Tagore Theatre, Chandigarh, shorn off make up, but for a big bindi adorning her forehead, dressed in a simple white Lucknavi salwar kurta, she does appear to be an altogether different person. But only for a while, as the dancer in her comes alive in every single nuance, expression and movement of hers. The perfection of her pirouette finds its match in her eloquent imagery of thoughts.

As the extremely articulate and intelligent dancer herself says, “What is Kathak but the dance of kathakars, the traditional storytellers of yore who recounted and interpretted tales from the Hindu mythology involving song and dance.” How this ancient dance form which even finds mention in the Mahabharata, born in temples, steeped in Brahamanical Hinduism came to be identified as the dance of tawaifs, she fails to grapple with.

She remarks, “The historical fact is that in the medieval period in the Indo-Gangetic belt, it were male dancers who carried forward the tradition of Kathak.” A part of the blame of course must be borne by the Hindi cinema for gross distortion of the beautiful dance whose traditional repertoire comprised Shiv and Krishna-based compositions.

Needless to say when she as a child of four donned the ghungross; she too had to clear the “notoriety” hurdle and bear the brunt of sarcasm-laden remarks of relatives. But her mother, who belonged to an aristocratic zamindar family with strong political leanings and associated with the freedom movement, was unfazed.

Shovana recalls, “As a small child I was always bristling with excessive energy and whenever I would question ‘ Ma what shall I do?’ the repartee would be ‘Naacho’.” But not as a song and dance routine, but a strict regimen to be followed with sincerity and dedication.

Be it dance or academics — she postgraduated in physics and had even enroled for a Ph. D. in solid state physics — the quest for excellence was ingrained in her since childhood.

Later, as a disciple of the legendary Pandit Birju Maharaj (from 1964-1975), she learnt the all-significant lesson of imparting knowledge with no-holds barred. Today, as a mentor of many an upcoming dancers — Attrei Roy, Shruti Gupta, Madhura Pathak, Namita Swarup — she avers, “Sarswati can’t be hoarded or monopolised. For it to flower, disseminate it without reservations.”

As the shishya of the grand master of Kathak, did his awesome presence cast a shadow on her journey of success? Were there any unflattering, unfair comparisons or great expectations, obstructing her path?

“None whatsoever” she replies. Instead she was noticed and written about a rising young star on the ascendant way back in the ‘70s. As of now, a string of honours — Parishad Saman Award, Bihar Gaurav, Bharat Nirman Puraskar, Oisca Award (Japan) — and a vast array of brilliantly choreographed works stand as a testimony to her mettle and a tribute to her guru. She reflects, “Indian arts have survived the test of times because of its inner dynamism.”

It’s this vibrancy and dynamism which is manifested in “Moon-light Impressions”, where she comes together with German pianist Herman Sausen, and “The Dawn After”, a fusion of three different dance forms i.e. Kathak, Western ballet and Flamenco.

Yet, question her about the contemporisation of ancient arts and she shoots back, “What is tradition today was innovation yesterday and what is experimental and modern at this given point of time will transgress unto heritage tomorrow.”

Then there are certain basic universal dilemmas which defy the barriers of time and space. Small wonder in her 16 years of married life (her spouse happens to be an Austrian, currently posted as Ambassador to India), she has experienced no cultural shock. She adds, “There was no cultural bridge to be crossed for our belief in humanity, respect for each other have been a binding factor.”

No activist dancer this, for she believes that artists unconsciously mirror and provide a montage for the happenings and incidents encompassing them. So whenever a cause or concern touches the deep recesses of her heart, it translates into a dance drama.

The trigger could be a real-life event as in “Toota Yeh Vishwas Kyon,” when she was outraged and incensed by the plight of a mother of a victim of incest. Or it could be a “Yashodhara” whose anguish at being deserted in the still hours of night by Lord Budha, cuts Shovana through when she sifts through the poem of the 20th century poet Maithali Sharan Gupt. She wonders aloud if the poet was a woman for how else could he possess such an insight into a woman’s psyche and pen poignantly “Sakhi , woh mujhse kah ke jaate”.

Though much of her work hovers around women’s issues, its not by deliberate design nor an attempt to keep the feminist banner afloat. Perhaps, her gender makes her more sensitive and also philosophical, a facet which recurs time and again in her association with Ram Chandra Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. The mating of two creative minds has culminated in “Mohan and Rambha”, a contemplation on inquiry and illumination, “The Clown of Assist”, “Unmasking of Death” and many others.

Fascinated by the intricacies of life, the mataphysical aspect often figures in her choreographies. So “Mera Safar”, a poem by Ali Sardar Jafri set to dance by Shovana, in a way sums up her own essence of life. In a highly charged, but melodious voice, she quotes Jafri, encapsulating the eternal cycle of life and death: “Phir ek din aisa aayaga aakhon ke deeye bujh jaayenge... ; Har cheez bhula di jaayegi, yaadon ke haseen butt khaane se har cheez utha di jaayegi, phir koi nahin yeh poochhega Sardar kahan hai mehfil mein... .

Optimism, hope and the stark naked inevitability of death are intertwined for her. Till her final tyrst with pre-ordained destiny, though with each step she is climbing up the ladder of success, like a ture great artiste who is humbled when the Almighty showers His graces, she claims with honest modesty, “I’m only learning for creativity is an open ended vista.”Top


Nafisa: From ‘Junoon’ to ‘Major Saab’
By A.S. Prashar

NAFISA Ali makes no bones about the fact she is getting along in years. A former Miss India and a one-time swimming champion, Nafisa is now a mother of three. Her hair has begun to turn grey but her face is free from wrinkles and the skin is flawlessly radiant. And above all, she continues to retain her familiar feminine, charm and zest for life and is, therefore, always ready to join one good cause or the other.

A film actress-cum-housewife, Nafisa was in Ludhiana recently to launch a health and fitness centre, Personal Point, along with her family friend, Dr Shobha Kaul. A great conversationalist, Nafisa has no difficulty in talking at length on almost every subject under the sun.

A fitness freak, Nafisa advises every one within hearing range to “fight fat” because obesity is the mother of a large number of diseases.

“I feel so sad when I see that even young boys and girls becoming fat”, she exclaims, “At least, they should be physically active and remain slim and trim. They must watch what they eat and how much they eat. It is primarily the responsibility of their parents.... They must not give rich foods to their children”.

Although no longer undertaking swimming in the pool or indulgling in her favourite hobby of horse-riding, Nafisa keeps herself fit through long walks. “I am now pushing 41. I am no longer young. So I cannot have long sessions of swimming or jogging in the woods. Therefore, the best exercise for me is walking”. And the results are there for all to see. She remains slim and trim at an age when most women give up and turn obese.

Nafisa has so far acted in three movies. She made her debut in Shashi Kapoor’s “Junoon” in 1978 which was a success at the box-office. Her second movie was “Kshatriya” with Vinod Khanna, which was just-about okay.

“I had always wanted to work with Amitabh Bachchan”, she says. But as I got along in years, I had sort of given up all hope. I finally got the chance to fulfil my dream in “Major Saab”. Out of the blue, I got this phone call from Tinu Anand in Bollywood offering me the role. I told him ‘For God’s sake, don’t give me the role a ‘phirangi’ woman in India’. But when he assured me that it was not so I jumped at the offer. So there I was in the movie acting with Amitabhji...”

She also figured in “Major Saab’s” only hit song Sona, sona... “I wanted so desperately to dance in this song with Amitabhji, but the director said no... I had to just stand there and clap to the bhangra beat of the song. It was such a disappointment”.

Although the film starred Amitabh along with Ajay Devgan and was expected to be a comeback vehicle for the aging superstar, it did not do well at the box-office. Nafisa can’t put her finger on the exact reason as to why the movie bombed. “I think it is just because Amitabhji is jinxed these days...,” she speculates.

There are not many offers coming her way from Bollywood, but she says that the she couldn’t care less. “If I get a role, fine. If I don’t, it is okey, she quips.

Nafisa says she got her offer to act in the movies from Raj Kapoor when she was still in her teens. But her father turned it down. “That was when I started interacting with the Kapoor family which finally led to my starring in Shashi Kapoor’s film. I got married to an Army officer around the time my film was released. So that was the end of my film career. But I have no regrets. I am quite happy the way I am with my husband and three children”.

Asked how she feel lecturing poeple on the benefits of keeping fit through exercise and dieting while her first “filmi” hero, Shashi Kapoor has turned so obese, Nafisa says, “It is because Shashi’s wife, Jennifer, is no longer around to take care of him”.Top


Art piece crying for research
By D.C. Sharma

IN the ruined ancient Kangra fort, some glorious relics are still enticing. One such piece is an antique stone image of Lord Vishnu sitting on the Garuda, his holy steed.

Set in the wall of a narrow passage behind the holy shrine keeping the antique image of Sri Adinath, the tip of Vishnu’s nose, lips and a part of his chin are missing. Lost in meditation, the image fills the onlooker with a great sense of piety and deep reverence.

This four-armed Vishnu holds the gadda in one hand and his damroo in another. His third hand is resting on his calf where even his thumb and fingers are minutely carved. The fourth hand of the Lord is, however, missing.

The very girdle and garlands of the image are wonderfully cut and carved. Vishnu’s crown and his chakra are minutely but smoothly chiselled. His slimmed waist and ballooned chest indicate how he is holding the yoga cultured breath.

The antiquity of this unique image is not known. It could be of Mahabharata times as Maharaja Susharma Chandra was a great worshipper of Hindu dieties. It could even pertain to Katoch rulers or to the days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who encouraged Hindu sculptors in these parts. This rare piece of art is crying for research!Top


Anu “Gurdas”Malik

WAJOOD (HMV; Rs 45): Tell Anu Malik that he is a copycat and he is prone to reacting wildly. He will tell you amidst bouts of self-righteous indignation that he has never copied anyone; he only gets inspiration from others’ music. Well, call it plagiarism or inspiration but Ki toot gayee … that he has included here is nothing but a clone of the Gurdas Mann hit, Ke tut gayee tadik kar ke …. Lyrics are a little different, but that does not fool anybody. It is unfortunate that the name of a lyricist of the calibre of Javed Akhtar goes as the writer. It has been rendered by Kavita Krishnamurthi and Sapna Awasthy.

The rest of the songs are nondescript, except Kaise bataoon main …, which is more of a dialogue in the voice of Nana Patekar rather than a song. The Alka Yagnik-Kumar Sanu duets, Main sochata hoon … and Aur hum tum … are hummable without being rememberable. Alka Yagnik’s Main kya karoon … lacks even that quality.

Kavita Krishnamurthy and Udit Narayan have sung Sanam tum hum pe … well, but the lyrics and music are so routine that the song never rises above mediocrity.

DIL KI PUKAAR (The Music; Rs 35): Himachal Pradesh has such a repertoire of melodious folk songs. It is a pity that there are very few Himachali cassettes. This album fills the gap.

It has been sung by Nirmal Sharma who has a sweet voice though not much of polishing. Lyrics are traditional and music directors Vinod, Ashu and Balraj have remained faithful to the traditional Himachali tunes. Songs like Kaleya kukkada … are simplicity personified.

Two of the songs included here, Tu malla tu … and Bhala shipayia Dogariya … have earlier been sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

The cassette is a welcome edition and one hopes that more Himachali singers will be coming out with their albums in near future.

SAAWAN MEIN LAG GAYEE AAG (BMG Crescendo): Roll the drums. Another member of the Daler Mehndi brotherhood has joined the singing brigade. His stage shows are dominated by his brothers Shamsher Singh, Amarjit Singh, Harjit Singh and Joginder Singh on various instruments. Mika has been providing vocal support. Now he has cut his individual disc.

He is deliberately trying to project less of an ethnic Punjabi image and has included several Hindi numbers in this cassette. He sings in a nasal tone and reminds one more of Lucky Ali than his brother. That is a good sign because by copying Daler, he would have gone nowhere. But it is doubtful if he would be able to shed the stiffness of voice noticeable in all numbers here in a hurry.

Ironically, he is better off while rendering Punjabi numbers. He has composed and arranged the music himself. All lyrics are also by him except Boleeyan... and Dil Le Gayee … which have been written by Ajmer Singh Chandan.

He may not be able to travel as far as his brother as far as singing is concerned, but he impresses as a music composer and that is the line he would do well to adopt more seriously.Top

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