Renu Sud Sinha
HE was just 11 when he saw Madhuri Dixit in ‘Devdas’ dancing on ‘Kaahe Chhed Chhed Mohe’ and that decided his life’s aim. Pursuing that dream has not been easy. “If you follow a different passion, everyone — from your school friends to relatives — treats you differently,” says kathak exponent Kumar Sharma (31). “But I had my parents’ unflinching support,” he adds.
Ludhiana boy Kumar is a born artiste. He was just three when he won a singing competition. His music teacher Shakuntala started teaching him classical vocal. But life had other plans. He was in Class V when his dance teacher Guru Sitaram of Jaipur gharana, who was equally adept in singing, began his vocal training. Impressed, guruji soon started taking the little boy for various kathak performances as live singer. “I was fascinated by ‘tihai’. Once guruji heard me singing its bol and he decided to initiate me into kathak. I was in Class VII then,” remembers the artiste, who is an accomplished classical vocalist.
That training halted only when Sitaramji passed away six years later. “After his death, dance chhoot gaya, but six-seven months later, I found guruji’s notes while cleaning. It was as if he was guiding me back. I read voraciously on kathak. It helped in strengthening my theory. I had already mastered the basics under guruji. For practical training, I turned to YouTube. I am an ardent admirer of kathak artistes Vidha Lalji and Aditi Mangaldasji. Their videos helped me refine my hand movements,” recalls Kumar.
Kathak soon beckoned Kumar back into its embrace. “I got a call from a college where guruji would teach. The college wanted me to train their team for the Panjab University youth fest. I was in Class XI then. The team won and I was soon training teams for other colleges. The girls would teasingly call me ‘chhote se sir’,” he smiles.
In the absence of a guru, there was no one to guide the young artiste. “My father is a retired banker and mom a home-maker. It was around that time in 2011, I and my troupe, Kathak Rockers, auditioned for ‘Chak Dhoom Dhoom’, a TV reality show. I had realised that for someone from a non-gharanedar family, TV was the only medium to grow. As it was not possible to present traditional kathak with live musicians on TV, I decided to mix kathak bol with Bollywood music, and presented pure kathak on it. We came in the top six but the mixing infuriated the purists,” says the exponent, who decided to shift to Mumbai.
“‘Chak Dhoom’ made me understand that for traditional dance forms to survive, we need to engage youngsters. Every contestant I met there only wanted to learn hip-hop or Bollywood. If the young don’t learn, the traditional forms will eventually vanish. I realised that kathak has to reach people in an attractive manner. Many artistes had worked to make it visually dynamic but no one had done anything about the audio part. So I started doing fusion, sometimes with Bollywood music and sometimes international. I am happy I am succeeding in my goal. Many youngsters in my workshops now say they have started learning kathak after watching me,” says the artiste. The huge presence of a young audience during his recent performance at the 52nd All-India Bhaskar Rao Nritya and Sangeet Sammelan at Chandigarh is proof enough of his connect with the youth.
Kumar, a well-known name in reality shows, got his first break in ‘Dance India Dance Super Moms’ (2013) and hasn’t looked back since. He is now choreographing established names like Jacqueline Fernandez, Mouni Roy, Mohan sisters and has performed with Shakti Mohan at an AR Rahman show. His dream to work with his idol Madhuri was finally realised in 2014 when he choreographed her performance for ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’s’ finale.
Ironically, the artiste who got into kathak because of Madhuri is not keen on Bollywood, except choreographing for (Sanjay Leela) ‘Bhansali sir’. “There’s no independence for creativity in the film industry. I am happy taking my art all over the world with Kathak Rockers.” Kumar’s ultimate goal remains a dance academy so that he can continue to spread the legacy of kathak.
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