A different odyssey 

Sujata Mohapatra, the talented daughter-in-law of the legendary Odissi guru Kelucharan Mohapatra who died some time back, has emerged as one of the most promising Odissi dancers today. Recently, she won the prestigious “Mahari Award”. She talks about her dance and guru in this tête-à-tête with Bibhuti Mishra.

Sujata Mohapatra What does the Mahari Award 2004 mean to you?

Awards always inspire. But I am overjoyed due to more than one reason. The award is instituted by Guru Pankaj Charan Odissi Research Foundation set up in the name of the late guru Pankaj Charan Das who was a guru to my father-in-law Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. So my winning this award has special significance. It is an impetus to young dancers. Besides the award takes its name from the Maharis or the devadasis who used to perform at Lord Jagannath temple. They are the seminal source of Odissi dance. So it’s a rare privilege to be honoured in their name.

It is said that only contacts work for awards.

No. I can assure you that I have not used any contact. I can’t because I am very conscious of the fact that it is guruji’s name linked with mine. But yes, there is lobbying for awards and use of contacts. I wish it were not there.

What is it to be the daughter-in-law of Padmavibhushan Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra?

It is a great responsibility. I have to be careful in everything I do and besides I constantly try to live up to his expectations. But I am also privileged that I watch the great guru from such close quarters. I am happy that I am more known as his disciple than his daughter-in-law. I have learnt a lot from him as a dancer and as a person.

How did you get to be under his tutelage?

I began learning dance at the age of four and a half from my mother Kumudini Mohanty. But when I came to Bhubaneswar and got enrolled in Odissi Research Centre it was the celebrated dancer Kumkum Mohanty who introduced me to Guruji. I thank her for giving me this opportunity.

So how has been the support of your husband?

My husband Ratikanta Mohapatra is a dancer in his own right. He has been the man behind my success. Besides there are women too. My mother and my mother-in-law Laxmipriya Mohapatra, who was a great dancer herself.

You are the Principal of Srjan the Odissi school founded by guruji and run by your husband as its director. So how do you combine performance with teaching?

I teach at Srjan. I also take classes outside. I go to Mumbai to teach Esha and Ahana, the daughters of Hema Malini and go to Kolkata to teach Dona Ganguly, disciple of Guruji and wife of Sourav. I do not think my dance gets affected by teaching. Rather it helps me to keep in form and iron out problems. When I am away on performance tours, others take over and continue till I return.

Being one of the most exciting prospects of Odissi dance, how do you look at Odissi dance today?

Unfortunately not much is happening in Orissa, the land of Odissi whereas many good things and programmes are being conducted outside even abroad. Here we do not find sponsors for Odissi. So it is difficult but I believe there is always a chance for the talented.

Has the popularity of Odissi has been its bane too?

I understand what you are driving at. There is a lot of dilution with Odissi schools mushrooming everywhere. But there has to be some standardisation and codification now that two other great gurus like Pankaj Charan Das and before his Guru Debaprasad Das are no more.

You are a daughter-in-law, a wife and a mother too. How do you balance the demands of this life with that of a dancer?

I am really grateful to God that in this life I have got this opportunity to be the daughter-in-law of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra in whose household I can freely grow as a dancer, thanks to the tremendous support extended by my husband and guru’ma.

Mahari Award

Guru Pankaj Charan Odissi Research Foundation was set up in 1993 in the name of the late Guru Pankaj Charan Das who was a pioneering guru of Odissi. The foundation launched Mahari award in 1995 to encourage young talents in Odissi dance. Over the last 10 years, the award has been conferred on a number of exciting prospects of Odissi dance.