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Updated: September 3, 2010 19:30 IST

Beyond familial bonds

ANJANA RAJAN
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Kathak Exponent Pandit Durgalal. Photo: V. V. Krishnan
The Hindu
Kathak Exponent Pandit Durgalal. Photo: V. V. Krishnan

Nupur and Mohit Lal on the festival they organise in memory of their father Pandit Durga Lal, coming up this Wednesday.

It has been two decades since the news of the sudden demise of Pandit Durga Lal, legendary Kathak maestro and guru of the Kathak Kendra, New Delhi, shocked the art world. People grieved not only for the loss of an artistic genius and a warm-hearted man in whom one would have struggled to find anything to criticise, but also for his young family. The tragedy that took place shortly after a brilliant performance in Lucknow deprived his daughter Nupur and his son Mohit of a father and a guru rather too early in life. But it's not for nothing they talk of the healing touch of art, as well as its ability to endow immortality.

Nupur, the eldest by six-and-a-half years, has never faltered in her determination to keep alive her father's memory, and along with her mother and brother as well as dedicated members of the art fraternity, has been organising the Pandit Durga Lal Memorial Festival annually. A significant feature of the festival has always been that it features not just Kathak artistes, or disciples of Pandit Durga Lal, but performers from across disciplines.

Carnatic music, Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, and various other classical forms come to mind on recalling the festival over the past few years. This year, the festival that takes place at Kamani auditorium on September 8, goes a step further, featuring the band Advaita, which performs a blend of Indian classical and Western music, besides Bharatanatyam by Geeta Chandran and Kathak by Nupur. Here, Mohit, who plays the tabla and other percussions for Advaita, and Nupur, both a Kathak dancer and a vocalist, speak about their approach to the festival and memories of their illustrious father. Excerpts from a chat with the siblings:

On this year's festival

Mohit: For certain reasons we couldn't do the festival for two years and wanted to get back to honouring Baba's memory. Also, this is his 62nd birth anniversary. So we wanted to pay tribute in our own way. We've always had a mix of cultural events. We're all young and we will always want to do new things.

On Pandit Durga Lal as a guru

Nupur: As a guru he was a strict disciplinarian. He never let us feel he was our father. We were equal, like all the other students. And we were not allowed to parrot anything. We had to learn it and bring in our own inputs. This has really helped us stand alone and find our own path. I started training formally under him when I was three and trained until he was there. I was 14 when we lost him.

On his approach to the arts

Mohit: From what I remember he was always into experimentation. For example he danced a duet with Sonal Mansingh, and the way he performed Kathak was also different from what was being performed at the time.

Nupur: He never believed in cultism and never allowed us to be like that also. I remember how students from other gharanas were always so very welcome. He would say whoever is dancing well should get a chance.

On the cards for the show

Nupur: I will be doing a Ganesh vandana that was composed and choroegraphed by my father. It was a very significant part of his work. I will also be doing 'Mangal Varsha', on the rains. This is composed by Alap Desai and choreographed by Geetanjali Lal and me.

Mohit: We are planning to do some new compositions. We are thinking of treating this as a classical concert, starting with Hindustani singing and sarangi, and then the rest of the band joining in. We will also present some compositions that feature in Advaita's album released last year by EMI, “Grounded in Space”.

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