Sonal Mansingh talks about mentoring a reality show featuring Indian and non-Indian dances for DD National

Reality shows seem to be the only way forward for those who aspire to television fame. So even as India witnesses the continuing clash of civilisations — as represented by the classical arts on the one hand and the popular media where time is money on the other — sometimes we find a middle ground.

Doordarshan has launched a reality show, Bharat Ki Shaan - Rum Jhum, that attempts to showcase classical dance forms in the format of competition and as popular entertainment. Aired on DD National, the show, already several episodes old, attracts particular interest because of the participation of veteran classical dancer and former chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sonal Mansingh.

The idea for this kind of programme had been on her mind for a long time, says Mansingh, who has teamed up with Gajendra Singh, a pioneering name in reality shows, to develop the series. The show juxtaposes Indian with non-Indian dances.

Mansingh explains that originally she wanted to bring in classical ballet, but a suitable representative was not available in India. However, she feels the non-Indian mentor on the show Sandeep Soparkar, an expert in ballroom dance, Latin dances and a number of other specialised forms is helping to bring viewers a whole spectrum of lesser-known dances from Thailand, Georgia, West Asia and other regions.

“In the other shows it is nothing but Bollywood or acrobatic moves,” she says, so this exposure is providing television audiences a glimpse of many arts. As for the Indian dance forms, it is not just the familiar classical names such as Odissi, Bharatanatyam and Kathak, folk and ritual dances have also been included.

Talking about winning and losing, the veteran guru says, “I think elimination is a bad word. I call it prasthaan.”

The mentor for the Indian dances is Sandeep Mahavir, a known choreographer, who belongs to the Jaipur gharana. All praise for his abilities, the veteran points out how he has guided the show so that it does not become a hotchpotch of styles. In some dance competitions a participant is supposed to showcase all genres, here, Mansingh says, “Stick to your vidha (genre). Within that, there are many aspects to be delved into.” One aspect of the show she is pleased about is called ‘Sonal ki paathshala’, where she is able to share on a public platform certain key aspects about dance. She gives credit to Doordarshan’s Director-General for giving the show an international reach.

Saying she and the two other mentors have been working very hard on the show, Mansingh points out that the attempt is to be serious without being boring. “This is not a dance class we are conducting on TV. We are competing with hundreds of channels. We don’t want them to turn it off. You have to make it popular; there are lovely props, lovely things.”

She is sure that the participants will benefit and have done so already. “The minute you appear on TV you become nationally known. And the people who watch will get to know a bit more about arts,” she signs off.