The communication gap ultimately put paid to Malti Shyam’s Kathak recital. Too timid to venture into explanations in Hindi and supposedly cautioned by the organisers about Chennai audiences not appreciating too much orating by a performer (one feels she must have misunderstood what was told to her), Malti Shyam’s Kathak was denied even the opening announcement by a compere with some information about the dancer’s background and what she was presenting.
With only the occasional cryptic and muffled “That,” “Tihai,” “Paran” or “Amad” spoken into the mike, the audience was left in the dark about the performance and what each sequence meant to convey. A senior student of Reba Vidyarthi and Pandit Birju Maharaj, Malti dances with quiet elegance which needed some initiation for the audience to appreciate.
As it was, despite Imran Khan’s vocal support and Govind Chakravarthi, a gifted tabla player providing percussion support and Murad Ali on the sarangi, the recital went by default, with the yawning gap between audience and dancer.
Malti’s Upaj (improvisation) was delicately nuanced and Govind Chakravarthy’s short interlude on the tabla was melodic. The best of the unstructured element came in the Khayal in Bagesri with a silhouette of the raga emerging through a one line minimal bandish, with Malti dancing to it. While the very fast taans could not be exactly matched, the rest of the dancer’s movements and rhythm kept pace with Imran’s music effectively.
Unfortunately with inadequate explanation, adding to Malti’s quiet stage presence, few in the audience realised the worth of what was being presented. Parmelu and little bandishes made popular by Birju Maharaj such as ‘Takadiga Tatuga digi’ went unregistered by the audience. Malti’s parhant was too high pitched and breathless and the Anchal Gat (the nayika wielding the veil that covers her face in various ways to delicately cast glances at the nayaka) could have been more subtly shown.
The Paran and drut laya in teentala were neatly executed. The finale was the thumri ‘Mohe Chhedo Na’ where the nayika tries to persuade Krishna from waylaying her as she wends her way to the river, and pleads ‘Sara Gokul Karega Badanaam.”(The entire Gokul township will give me a bad name”). The one line was mimed in different ways.
Malti could have used singer Imran for helping out with explanations with his ability to speak both English and Hindi. It was an opportunity lost!