The Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra annual awards festival, held in Bhuvaneshwar recently, left the audience eagerly awaiting the next.

While protestors and police clashed on one side of the city, thousands thronged the festival held in remembrance of their favourite guru. Amidst such an incongruous paradox of co-existence, the 18th edition of the Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra annual awards festival hit a high note in Bhuvaneshwar.

The venue , the famous Rabindra Mandap, was literally a stone’s throw away from the scene of violence and yet celebrations went on with gusto, thanks to the efficient organising capacity of the festival director Ratikant Mahapatra.

Decorated with numerous sepia-tinted images of Kelubabu, which offered glimpses of his artistic journey down the decades to the guests as they were ushered into the main hall.

After the inaugural ceremony, Odissi exponent Madhavi Mudgal opened with Adi Shankara’s ‘Jagannathashtakam’ that set the ball rolling for the first evening’s performances. One of Kelubabu’s senior-most disciples couldn’t have found a better way to pay tribute to her guru on Teacher’s Day. Which Odissi performance could claim to be complete without a Jayadeva’s Ashtapadi? Madhavi, who was unwell, strung three of them in a choreographic narrative. One missed Arushi Mudgal, who normally accompanies her on stage.

This was followed by Hariharan’s ghazal recital. For an artist who has transcended different genres such as Indie pop, films songs and Hindustani classical, Hariharan enthralled a demanding audience with his effortless style. Except for the constant distraction of big black files that he kept unfolding with each song, he had the whole hall tapping to his tempo.

The second day commenced with a Kuchipudi recital by Manju Bharghavi. A protégé of the late Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, Manju’s dance espoused flashes of her guru’s choreographic style and technique. Visibly tired, Manju managed to pull through the show, which was not one of her best. A percussion ensemble with vidwan Karaikudi Mani on the mridangam, Pt. Anindo Chatterjee on the tabla and Bangalore Amrit on the ganjira ended the evening. While performing a simple ‘aadi talam’, as both the percussion artists went about their jugalbandi, the decibel levels reached intolerable heights.

Standing ovation

The next evening, veteran Bharatanatyam dancer Vyjayanthimala presented a varnam in Kaapi ragam by Swati Thirunal among other pieces. The energy in each sanchari she performed to ‘Samayam Bahu Baadaya Sakhi’ and ‘Saraseeruha Naabha’ as Anahita Ravindran sang, cast a spell on everyone in the hall. Her effortlessness at nritta and abhinaya could give dancers half her age a run for their money. As she danced, the audience sat awestruck. Her performance received a standing ovation. She reminisced about the times when Kelubabu had requested her to dance in Odisha and how that was fulfilled now.

An Odia comedy, ‘Bahana,’ directed by Jayadev Das, had a group of excellent actors who kept the audience in splits.

The next evening opened with a fusion concert by flute duo, Pankaj and Paras Nath. While the brothers displayed enthusiasm, all the pieces they performed sounded alike and stereotyped. With immature percussion interludes over a synthesised background score, the concert came across as a jam session of college kids.

This was followed by a Kathak recital by U.S.-based Pt. Chitresh Das. At his age, Pt. Das has an impressive control over his breath and footwork. His tatkaar, a bit loud, was commendable. But his face lacked expression related to the snippets of abhinaya he attempted during the gat bhaav in a small excerpt from Kalidasa’s ‘Shakuntala’.

Pt. Das’s habit to overwhelm and impress the audience with his foot work was evident, but the overall performance lacked substance, which was not what one expected from a senior like him.

The finale was a grand ceremony with the Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik releasing the festival souvenir and giving out the annual awards. The awardees were Guru Birabara Sahoo, for his lifetime contribution to dance, and Rama Chandra Patihari for theatre. A purse of Rs. 50,000 was awarded to them.

This was followed by a delightful dance presentation by the artists of Srjan. With exceptional choreography by guru Ratikant Mahapatra, the group exhibited well-coordinated movements and sophistication. ‘Bishwas,’ their new work inspired by writings from the Gurubani, saint Kabir and the Holy Quran, dealt with the theme of faith and communal harmony. One of Odisha’s most popular festivals concluded with much fanfare, with everyone eagerly looking forward to the next one.

(Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and a culture critic)