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Time to introspect

Dancer Prathibha Prahlad, who is responsible for the ongoing Bharatanatya Mahotsav, says it is aimed to provide dance gurus an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess, compare themselves with other dancers, and assess themselves. She fears that in a bid to promote the arts, governments have turned Bharatanatya to mass art.

IT IS easy to attach adjectives to Prathibha Prahlad - vivacious, beautiful, intelligent, rebellious, non-conforming, colourful, stylish, even haughty. But at the Bharatanatya Mahotsava taking place at Ravindra Kalakshetra, dance gurus and students all wanted to add one more adjective to describe this dancer - they called her generous. "In spite of my talent and dedication to dance, I never got the support of the people and artistes of my own State. But I am still determined to get the deserved recognition for the Bharatanatya artistes of Karnataka," says Pratibha.

Our tete-a-tete in one of the greenrooms is disturbed a dozen times - young dancers and old gurus come forward to thank her for bringing the Mahotsava to the State for the first time. Jointly organised by Sangeet Natak Academy and the Department of Kannada and Culture, Government of Karnataka, the festival features demonstrations by gurus and their students in the mornings and performances by established dancers in the evenings.

"As a member on the Board of the Sangeet Natak Academy, I felt we needed to look at the growth that this art form has seen. From being a temple dance, Bharatanatya has evolved to become a pan-Indian form. Dance schools are mushrooming. But what are numbers without quality? So here is an opportunity to gurus of Karnataka to demonstrate their prowess. I am just holding up the mirror for them to see themselves and compare themselves with other dancers. Hopefully, they will be able to assess themselves."

Incidentally, she was nominated to the Academy by Cabinet Minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, and not by Karnataka. I ask her why her performance on the opening day had a packed house. Is it your fame? Personality? Or your art? Never one to mince words, the dancer with a post-graduate degree in Mass Communication and M.Phil in English says: "I'm not going to be apologetic about my intelligence or my good looks. I was born with them. But hard work and spirit have got me this far. I'm an intelligent dancer. My compositions are not just physical expressions, but an expression of my own interpretation of the songs. For instance, my `Saadinchinae' was a completely contemporary explanation of a totally traditional composition. People have been dancing to Saadinchinae for many years. But there are so many new ways of looking at things. My Sita is not a bimbo. She is an intelligent, brave woman who chose her birth and death. She also chose to let Rama have the glory of killing Ravana."

In a bid to encourage the arts, successive governments have turned Bharatanatya from being a high art to a mass art, laments Prathibha. "But once in a while, from this mass of mediocrity rises a spark of excellence, and this is what excites me. I hope festivals such as this one will bring out that handful of excellent dancers. We as a State rejoice in pulling each other down instead of giving a hand to send the good ones higher. But I hope our artistes learn that this attitude is neither good for the individual artiste or the art form. We need to take care of the long-term health of Bharatanatya."

As the founder of Prasiddha Foundation, New Delhi, Prathibha and her students have performed all over the world. "I teach free of cost. But I expect total dedication and passion from my students. I call them at 6 a.m. or 10 p.m. for classes and see if they care to make it," she confesses gleefully.

Prathibha's fame came after years of work. "After a rigorous college week, I would take the night train to Madras, dance eight to 10 hours with my gurus - U.S. Krishna Rao and V.S. Muthuswamy Pillai - and then get back for classes and assignments on Monday morning," she reveals. She learnt abhinaya from Kalanidhi Narayanan, and Vempati Chinna Satyam was also her guru.

Prathibha is her biggest critic. "I'm never satisfied with myself. Complacency destroys art," she concludes.


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