|ARTS TRIBUNE||Friday, May 10, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Sonal’s 40 years in dance
Padma Bhushan Sonal Mansingh couldn’t have asked for a better gift on the completion of her 40 years in dance.
As her first disciple Swathi Bhisei captivated a select Delhi audience with a performance on Bharatnatyam dedicated to the legend, Sonal’s joy knew no bounds.
Swathi — her first protege at the Centre for Indian Classical Dances which the Bharatnatyam and Odissi exponent established in 1977 — stole the limelight, with amazing control and brisk feet movements, at a cultural ceremony here recently.
Instrumental in introducing Bharatnatyam in the curriculum of around 300 schools in New York, Swathi is carrying forward the tradition of her guru in the USA.
"The performance of my disciples now constitute the greatest gifts in my life...no honour can match that," Sonal told UNI on the sidelines of a function to mark her 59th birthday and the completion of her four decades in dance.
For Sonal, the real significance of the artistic traditions of the world is the power inherent in them. "If an art form does not have the capacity to create a tradition...it cannot be called a classic," she said.
The evening also included scintillating performances by her disciples Pallavi Sethi (Odissi) and Pallavi Saran (Bharatnatyam).
Former President R. Venkataraman said Sonal had danced her way into the hearts of the people. "She is one of the most complete danseuse in the vortex of the contemporary world. She represents the whole of Indian culture...she is a philosopher among dancers," he added.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj said Sonal had "lived dance", experienced its many splendours and was constantly interpreting and relocating this form of art. "Not only her footsteps and expressions are extraordinary...her ‘bindas’ (cheerful) style will always keep her ticking at the highest level," she added.
Member of Parliament L.M. Singhvi said Sonal should be nominated as a Rajya Sabha member for her contribution in the field of art and culture. "She will bring dignity to Parliament and increase the standard of debates," he added.
Sonal, who has been performing extensively on stage since 1961, is a thinker, researcher, orator, choreographer and teacher and all these combine well in her dances.
She staged several performances in abroad since 1965 in Geneva the latest being Odissi festival in the USA and Canada.
She has travelled widely, seen and assimilated myriad dance and art traditions of the world.
Sonal is a master of Odissi, the ancient and traditional dance style of Orissa, and has decades of training in Bharatnatyam, Chhau (martial dance from Orissa) and Indian music.
She is widely acclaimed for choreography that include "Indradhanush" a fusion of Indian film songs with classical dance, "Mera Bharat" on the golden jubilee of India’s independence, "Draupadi", "Shiva Tandava", "Gita Govinda", "Sita Swayambaram" and "Chaturang".
Lately, her work has veered towards issues concerning women, environment and reinterpretation of ancient myths.
Sonal, one of the youngest recipient of Padma Bhushan (1992), has won several awards, including Shiromani award (1989), Rajiv Gandhi Excellence Award (1991) and Indira Priyadarshini award (1994).
There is always a snigger from people one meets, especially at page 3-style receptions, when they realise you are a media critic: "Whom have you crucified this week?" is the more polite style of greeting from old friends. A more understandable question comes from strangers, who sometimes look on media columnists as some sort of low species of counch potato: "Do you ever watch programmes for pure pleasure and no severe analysis?" They are quite surprised when you say you do, and many of them are programmes one watches in the course of one’s work and they are given appreciative mention.
The BBC used to have two programmes involving such questions. One was Critics’ Choice and the other Desert Island Discs, the second was strictly confined to what music discs one would choose if one were to be marooned on a desert island. I shall concentrate on Critics’ Choice (since critic is now a dirty word perhaps I should call it Columnist’s Choice).
Among the news channels I find Star News and Aaj Tak most interesting for hard, mostly political news, although NDTV has its share of Shikha Trivedis and others who do splendid rural and sociological reporting. But I find more enjoyable off-beat items on Zee News, which lacks the tempo and polish of the other two, but includes entertaining as well as serious non-political items which take one away from an obsession with controversial politics. I find the occasional Hard Talk with Tim Sebastian absorbing on the BBC. Especially when they hit back, as many Palestinian spokespersons do and as Boutros-Boutros Ghali did last week when doggedly and coolly explaining the Arab point of view on Palestine and what exactly he thought of Cowboy Bush’s biased support of Israel and UN ineffectiveness even when it occupies Palestine territory without legal sanction, commits the worst atrocities against innocent civilians and keeps out the world media. Which is much worse than what Iraq, Cowboy Bush’s bete noir is accused of.
Of the talk shows, I enjoy Question Time India, because of Prannoy Roy’s elegant and intellectually alert anchoring, Vir Sanghvi’s Star Talk when he tackles someone like Bal Thackarey and gets away from giggly women stars (someone suggested the show, at its worst should be re-named Lady’s Man) Karan Thapar when he is roughing up Pervez Musharraf or treating gently shy sportsmen like Rahul Dravid or Mahesh Bhupathi to draw them out, or Rajat Sharma trapping arrogant politicians with a smile until they realise it is too late. These are professionals who know what they are about, although I wish some of them didn’t do too may shows on too many channels, which makes them look mercenary and non-exclusive. Of the quiz programmes, there is none to touch Mastermind India, in a class of its own, not least of all because it makes one feel so proud of the prodigious talent of the Indian participants, some of whom have been rated higher than their British counterparts in England.
Most of the cinema chat shows send me up a tree with their superficiality, their monotony of subject, with the same films, the same stars appearing on multiple chat shows. Their anchors are equally glib, superficial and the women are the worst, with their silly mannerisms. I prefer the shows anchored by professionals like Om Puri or Faroque Sheikh, Javed Akhtar when he is not doing too many of them and Mahesh Bhatt in his less strident and more seriously analytical moments. I watch Star Gold, Sony Max, HBO and Star Movies, occasionally AXN when it gives us genuinely good cinema without the excessive sex and violence of which it is frequently accused.
But for sheer, elemental pleasure, give me every time National Geographic for its basic love of flora, fauna and environment and Discovery and its enchanting twin, Animal Planet, the first for such enlightening series as one on Forensic Medicine and Animal Planet for letting me watch such treats as the one on bull terriers in its series on dogs, since I have been a bull terrier buff since childhood.
The most unexpected pleasure comes from DD Bharati, which, in spite of its terrible scheduling and non-existent publicity has dug up some wonderful Indian classical and semi-classical recitals by the great musicians from its archives. Except they always catch one unawares and come at the wrong time. I suppose DD will always be DD.
Most of the sob-stuff serials beginning with K and otherwise give me no pleasure at all. I prefer revivals of the older ones like "Udaan", "Nukkad" and the rest and the newer ones which have not copy-catted foreign serials with so little success. Back to the horrors of Gujarat next week.
DEVDAS (Universal): Making a film on a story which has already hit the silver screen several times, and met with tremendous success to boot, poses many challenges because odious comparisons are invariably made. The same hold true of its music as well. We have yet to see "Devdas" but as far as its music is concerned, it is no less brilliant than its predecessors. Sanjay Leela Bhansali has selected exceptional music for his much talked about film. (It is exceptional mainly in the sense that such traditional music is heard so rarely in films).
Ismail Darbar lives up to the reputation that he earned through "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam". His music is melodious, classy and above all, purely Indian. The soothing strains of Indian instruments recreate the ambience of a bygone era admirably. To have that kind of music in your film, that too in this age amounts to a major risk. It is praiseworthy that Bhansali has made no compromises to the so-called modern taste. Most of the songs are based on classical ragas.
The same holds true of Nusrat Badr’s lyrics too. But the most unusual "item" is Kaahe chhede mohe… written and composed by the legendary Pt Birju Maharaj. He has also lent his voice to it, along with Kavita Subramaniam (nee Krishnamurthy) and Madhuri Dixit.
Another pleasant observation is that Jaspinder Narula has managed to sound quite similar to Asha Bhosle in More piya… which has been penned by Samer. The other singer here is Shreya Ghoshal.
Shreya has also given a good account of herself in several other songs, including the exceptionally melodious single, Silsila ye chahat ka….
She has a duet with Udit Narayan (Bairi piya…), another with Udit Narayan and Vinod Rathod (Chalak chalak…) and a chorus with Kavita Subramaniam and KK (Dola re dola…).
KUCH TUM KAHO KUCH HUM KAHEIN (Tips): This Album is full of several frothy numbers but the one which is pure candy floss is the first one, Jab se dekha tumko, hum to khoye khoye rehte hain… (Alka Yagnik, Kumar Sanu). For once Anu Malik is original and at his creative best. This is also the longest song at more than seven minutes and will, hopefully, have an equally lengthy run at the popularity charts. A close second is Hua salaam dil ka, maine aashiqui kar lee… (Alka Yagnik,Udit Narayan).
Fardeen Khan gets his name included in the list of singers by warbling a few words in Aa ra ra raa... which has been sung by Sonu Nigam. Kuch tum kaho, kuch hum kahein…, the only single of the album has been sung by Hariharan. Newcomers Prashant, Preeti and Pinky join Shaan in presenting a lively Choori choori… but it is Tuhi hai… by Sunidhi Chauhan and Shaan that packs real punch.