India is celebrating the nectar festival of independence. How has Kathak expanded on the world stage since independence? How much progress has this classical dance of India made?
I can’t seem to see it, but last May I turned eighty. I am the oldest in this field. When I started, Kathak was not where it is today. Today I find that by Guru’s grace, by God’s grace (I am a devotee of Mahakal Baba) Kathak is paramount in the whole world. Only a few countries would have been left. I myself have lived in England for fifty years to see where Kathak was when I started and where it is today. There is a difference between the earth and the sky. Kathak is known all over the world, for which I will give credit to my guru, Pandit Birju Maharaj. Because of him Kathak has surrounded everything.
Kathak has been making its place in popular culture since its inception. Gopikrishna, Sohanlal ji, Lachhu Maharaj, Sitara Devi and Pandit Birju Maharaj have also expanded Kathak art to films and popular platforms. How is your presence in this area?
It is not very nice to say about myself, but as I mentioned earlier, I have continued this work while living abroad. I have people from many countries, from Afro-Caribbean to African, Chinese etc. – taught everyone. I am the first person in England who is teaching Kathak to the students of the world. Although at one time there was also Ram Gopal ji, but he had his own troupe which used to run. He used to perform in different countries. I have met him. Then he said to me ‘Don’t teach too much, teach after thinking.’ I found this very strange then. From 1972, I started taking Kathak classes in almost every city in England. Today it has spread like a tree. I did a lot of sacrificing in this work. When I was in Trinidad for four years on behalf of the Government of India, at the end of the term, the Prime Minister there gave me a five thousand US dollar salary and a proposal to give a bungalow. Meanwhile I went to London on my way to India for Diwali holidays. There I was asked to stay here for four weeks and teach Kathak to the students. As soon as he announced, 40 students came. Whereas before that there was no trace of teaching there. The effect of those four weeks was that everyone started saying that you stay here, your name will be in England forever. I stayed in England for a salary of £416. If you tell someone, he will not believe it. I will not lie, Ghungroo is in my hands, I decided to leave the bungalow and live in England, five thousand US dollars.
You were also talking about films. What happened?
That story is strange too. I did the film ‘Dastaan’. Gopi Bhai (Gopi Krishna) was a very good friend of mine. I told him that I also want to do something in the film, then he said – Aa ja, Dastaan is a film. Got there. BR Chopra’s film. I told Gopi bhai, play music. He played I said, remove all this, play your dance wala music. So he said that this is music. I said, what will be the dance on this music? The Spanish type had a completely different music. Influenced by flamenco. I said that I am not doing this. Then I asked, what clothes will you wear? The situation in the film was that Dilip Kumar was showing his wife in ballet dance that you cheated on me. I had to play Dilip Kumar in ballet. Shankar-Jaikishan was doing music. I was given a brown costume. BR Chopra was standing there. Showing them I said that wearing this I will look like a schoolmaster. He said, what color do you want? I said mustard. He ordered mustard. On the first day I told Gopi bhai that I don’t want to, I am going back. Gopi Bhai said what will you tell me after going back? I said – this is the truth. I will say that I did not like the work. Gopi Bhai laughed and said that no one in the Kathak center will listen to your words. Everyone will understand that they have been rejected. He explained everything to me. The next day I fought for my life. Show such quickness and dizziness that the sweat was gone. Padma Khanna was with me in that dance.
So even after ‘Dastaan’, the series of films continued?
The same Shantaram ji had called for a film, but then my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Asha ji and Lata ji are my relatives. He also said a lot not to refuse Shantaram ji, but I told him my helplessness. I could not do that film. Later, around 1974, I became a hero in a film made in the South American city of Guyana. There was no dance work in it.
: Language Inputs
This post is sourced from newspapers, magazines and third-party websites. For more information please check NewsDay Express Disclaimer.