Rani Khanam's homage brought out the humanist in Faiz, while Navia Natarajan regaled viewers with her immaculate Bharatanatyam.
The evening paying homage to that “revelationary and revolutionary” poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz at the India International Centre began with an informative introduction by Pran Neville, who conceptualised the programme along with Kathak dancer Rani Khanam, to this legendary poet of the people — a humanist, less concerned with poetic fancies for art's sake than with the freedom and aspirations of the common man.
Rani, a Kathak dancer very responsive to poetry, began her recital with a Faiz poem which made for a perfect invocational expression of a humanist. “Aaiye haath uthaye ham bhi, Hum jinhe rasm-e- dua yaad nahi” wherein the poet exhorts all to stretch helping hands and invoke blessings for those who need it badly, the poem imploring that those who can, but have not so far lent a hand, do so to lift the down-trodden.
Very expressive, the interpretation of “Raaz-e-ulfat chhupake dekh liya, Dil bahut kuch jalaa ke dekh liya” saw all the sringar essence of Kathak captured with sensitivity. Yearning for a meeting of glances with the one fancied, the dance spun round the nayika trying ways of catching the attention of the loved one through discrete and obvious ways. Rani has an understated elegance with ‘nazar andaaz' which she brings to bear on her abhinaya. More redolent of the sadness of unfulfilled promises of love was the next “Mujhse pehlisi mohabbat mere mehboob na maang”, stating that what had begun with a feeling that even the sorrows of the loved one and what her eyes said were enough to keep the world shining, had now come to naught.
Rani's is not a translation of poetry to dance as much as an interpretation where the dance, while reinforcing and elaborating on the poetic statement, underlines a message on its own strength. The last poem “Mera dard nagma e be sada” reflected the eternal search of man for an identity without which a sense of completeness eludes him — underlining the hope that what is experienced in silence finds a tongue to express itself.
Rani's nritta segment, while a respite from the poetry, had crystal clarity of laya and line and varied intonation in the padhant. Even in the poetic interpretation, the footwork clearly articulated the rhythmic metre. In the nritta gat nikas and gat bhav section, was the visualisation of the nayika rising from bed, coming out of the room and watching the skies and then the rain drops — the joy of the falling rain caught in ankle bell sounds, echoing the speed and moods of the rain. With her new found trimness, Rani was most persuasive. Shakeel Ahmed (tabla) and Nasir Khan (sarangi) provided excellent accompaniment. A stronger vocalist was needed.
Experienced dancer Navia Natarajan trained under Padmini Ramachandran, A. Lakshman and Bragha Bessell, accompanied by a competent musical team comprising vocal support and nattuvangam by Sri Vatsa, Sri Ganesh (violin) and Chakrapani (violin), regaled the audience at the IIC auditorium, with her Bharatanatyam proficiency. Sri Vatsa's pushpanjali composition in Bhairavi with the dancer's immaculate nritta with sarukkai stretches with a catchy, concluding khanda rhythm Saraswati hymn, was followed by the Papanasam Sivan Nattakuranji varnam “Saami naan undan adimai enru ulagamellam ariyume”.
A young nayika's faith ending in total surrender to the dancing Lord, while visualised creditably by the dancer herself, had too many adhesions in an already marathon composition. Using epithets applicable to Shiva and setting them in the form of a jati and spinning kavutvam type passages into the main varnam are trends today, but why elongate an already long composition? The first jati went on endlessly, its geometrical concept, if any, spun of shape, the end lacking punch.
The aural music of crisp teermanams ending with authority has more impact. But for this needless over-stretching, Navia's rhythmic command and immaculate lines created a positive impression. The Begada “Yarukkagilum Bhayama” demonstrating the devil-may-care attitude of the nayika for societal gossip about her relationship, and the contrasting vatsalya of Yashoda lulling little Krishna to sleep in “Jo Achhudananda” in Kapi set to Khanda Chapu tala, were rendered with involvement. Madurai Krishnan's Revati tillana concluded the programme.