flashback 2004 

Brush with a large canvas

Ladies’ Man: Manjeet Bawa with gallery owner Renu Puri and curator-friend Ina Puri
Ladies’ Man: Manjeet Bawa with gallery owner Renu Puri and curator-friend Ina Puri

Navtej Johar danced his way into Pakistani hearts

Images and icons in art and theatre captured the upbeat mood of the year, marked by celebrations and anniversaries, reports Nirupama Dutt

The fourth year of the new millenium was culturally reflective in nature. There seemed to be more looking before than after. The mood, however, was one of commendation what with so many jubilees, anniversaries and celebrations.

A high point of the year was the very controversial Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Lalit Kala Akademi. Since it was festive time all controversies were drowned awhile because there was a lot of moolah to be spent. There was a well-organised mammoth show of the works of the national award winners down the 50 long years. How the awards are won is quite another story. Grace demands that such unsavoury things not be brought up now.

The merry month of May saw the change of power from the rabid right to the ‘supposedly’ secular and this, of course, meant a change of equations among the culture vultures too. With the new government settled in, celebrations began in full force with a gala multi-media presentation at the Sri Fort Auditorium called Image and Icon in August. This was the time to honour the octagenarians, well that was how it was with most, with Kala Ratna awards. So old time rivals Maqbool Fida Husain and Satish Gujaral were sharing the stage, among a host of others, to receive the medallions from President Abdul Kalam. However, the older of the two stole the show landing a contract abroad for a hundred paintings for a hundred crore. The celebrations brought in their wake a day-long festival of Art in Cinema. The highlight was once again Husain Abba with his Tabu starring film Meenaxi: A Tale of 3 Cities. Among the other films included were Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Meeting Manjeet (Bawa of course), Kumar Shahani’s As The Crow Flies, an informal tete-a-tete with Akbar Padamsee and Couples by Vivan Sundaram.

The Sundaram association brings to mind his famous aunt, the late Amrita Shergil. In March on the occasion of the International Women’s day, Radhika Shrinagesh, an independent curator, had mounted an interesting show called Re-visiting Amrita Shergil. In this she invited 50 contemporary women artists react in a fresh work to a print of Amrita’s famous painting_ Three Sisters. This resulted in some interesting experiments with Gogi Saroj Pal regrouping them, Pooja Irrana covering them with a blind and Damyanti giiving one of them wings. This exhibition has been moving through the country and hopefully it will go to Lahore. The Lahoris consider Shergil their own for there she chose to make her home and there she died.

Two images from M.F. Husain’s  Meenaxi: Tale of 3 Cities
Two images from M.F. Husain’s Meenaxi: Tale of 3 Cities

The major cultural bonanza for the artists of the north was the relaxtion for Visa and the beginning of a cultural exchange. It was as though floodgates of emotions had been opened and singers, painters, writers and theatrewalas made most of it. In Delhi an interesting rungarung programme called Bin Border Barsat was organised. The star attraction proved to be dance by Chandigarh-bred dancer Navtej Johar to the music of Madan Gopal. Since there have been many invitations for Navtej and he has literally danced into the hearts of the Pakistanis— Ranjh ga jogrha ban aayea. Similarly, rababi singer Ghulam Mohammad Chand, claiming descent from Mardana, the companion of Guru Nanak, was such a hit in Punjab, Chandigarh and Delhi that the Punjab Languages Department gave him the year’s Shiromani Ragi Award. Through the year Amritsar, Jalandhar, Patiala and Delhi saw many Pakistani artistes performing.

Theatre lovers just loved Lahoran Madeeha Gauhar’s Bulle Shah staged in the Capital as well as Chandigarh. Neelam Mansingh’s play Kitchen Katha was widely appreciated in Lahore. But Neelam’s play of the year was Sibu in Supermarket. Penned by poet Surjit Patar, it took up the dilemma of the individual and the phenomenon of globalisation. Amal Allana presented a Gabriel Garcia Marquez tale on stage—Erendiera—and won much applause. Neeta Mohindra of Amritsar put up a one-woman act in the direction of M.K. Raina. The play Buhe Barian was based on three moving Partition stories by Amrita Pritam, K.S. Duggal and Ajeet Cour. Mahesh Dattani’s play Seven Steps Around the Fire questioning the sanctity and hypocrisy of matrimony made waves. As the last month of the year came in Delhi, the mood was nosalgic with audiences still enjoying the Shabana Azmi Faroukh Shaikh starring play—Tumhari Amrita. Well, love and longing any day. The feminists, of course, had Eve Ensler here for staging Vagina Monologues and creating quite a stir.

There were many anklets and many melodies the year round with Shubha Mudgal going up the popularity charts and much in demand to sing Kabir at the many peace gatherings all over the sub-continent. The Kalakshetra Foundation organised the birth centenary celebrations of Rukmani Devi who revived Bharatanatyam when it was a dying form and infused it with new energy. Bharatnatyam dancer Leela Samson who has always been taking an innovative approach to dance organised a workshop with dancers from different disciplines and observers. Leela says, "The rasik’s knowledge is enhanced by such a participation and so is the dancer’s." Odissi dancer kept dancing away blues and grays in her quest for the elusive K_ the flute-playing Krishna of course. Two sad goodbyes were to the great odissi dancer, Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra and the nightingale M.S. Subbulakshmi who gave a voice and face to the Meera legend.

Coming back to the he(art) of the matter, another sad anniversary marked this year. November 2004 marked the 20th anniverary of the killings of the Sikhs with the offenders still unpunished. Many lit candles silently in their homes and painter Manjit Bawa comemmorated it by exhbiting his works against violence_ charting the path of the conscience from the November killings, demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat carnage. Since the year marked the 400th anniversary of the sacred text of the Sikhs, the Rakabganj gurdwara in the Capital saw a rare art exhibition featuring the Sikhs and Arpana Caur’s eloquent depiction of Guru Nanak was part of it. It is on this spiritual note one leaves this year watching the dreamy landscapes of Benaras by Manu Parekh to move to a spirited ushering in of the cultural ‘2005’.