Reigniting the passion with ‘Indra Sabha’

Nuanced approach A scene from “Indra Sabha”  

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh was a great patron of arts. Though he reigned only for nine years, after which he was ousted by the British and exiled to Calcutta where he died in 1857, his few years of reign saw an unprecedented growth of different art forms, and his court thronged with artists from all over. He himself participated; he sang, composed, acted and danced. The “Baradari” was truly a state of the art open air theatre; the Nawab wrote and composed two plays; he also wrote poetry and songs under the pen name “Akhtarpiya”. His Pari khana, a school of dance and music employed 180 artists. Though the ruler was a teetotaller all his life, he was decried as a debauch by the British,.

One of the writers in his court, Amanat Ali wrote a dance drama in 1852 called “Indra Sabha”, a fantasy set in the court of Indra Deva, Lord of the Heavens. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah apparently himself acted in this, playing the role of Lord Indra. This musical, described as a “mujra nautanki kathak style” was revived and presented in the 1970s in Delhi, with the music composed by late Padmashri Naina Devi. It was choreographed and directed by Padma Bhushan Uma Sharma, who also played a small role in the production. This production is now being presented again to a new generation by the Kathak doyenne on 18th November.

The cast of over 35 people include Papiha Malik, a singer who learnt from Naina Devi herself. Naina Devi, undoubtedly a much loved part of Delhi’s music world from the 1950s till her death in the early 1990s was not just a golden voiced thumri singer with a huge repertoire of rare thumris prised from legendary names like Anjani Bai Malkpekar, Girija Shankar Chakravarty, Rasoolan Bai, she was also a producer of music and dance related programmes for Doordarshan. Her “Raag Rang” used to hold the most wonderful soirees and concerts in Delhi; indeed she played a huge role in making Delhi the cultural capital after Independence. In the words of Vinod Kapur, patron of music whose regular baithaks remain eagerly sought after events in Delhi since the last 30 years, “Nina ji (Naina Devi) was an extraordinarily generous person who shared her music and the music of her friends with everyone. I cannot forget how she insisted on a traditional “sehra” being sung at the wedding of my son – not only did she compose it herself, she also sung it.”

Tribute to Guru

Uma Sharma

Uma Sharma   | Photo Credit: V_Sudershan

Dance doyenne Uma Sharma shared that this production so many years after the death of her “mentor” Naina Devi was a tribute to her. She said her music was ever green; this production’s music director Ustad Imran Khan of the Delhi gharana had needed to merely re-assemble it. The drama is the story of two lovers who are separated by the ruler, Indra, but eventually come together again. As in any period production there are doses of drama, emotion, lyrical songs. The dialogue, admirably recited by the dancers themselves is in courtly Urdu; indeed it is heartening to see the dancers adapting themselves to the art form of theatre.” The lead roles are played by Mohan Yadav as the lover Gulfam, and his lover Sabz Pari is played by Radhika Shah.

Talking to Uma Sharma about this production is an eye opener. The iconic dancer shared that “this was truly for me a journey going back in time. I recall so many details from the last production that we had presented nearly 50 years ago, how Nina ji (Naina Devi) and I sourced the fabrics, her insistence on seeing personally to the very last detail, the minutest aspect – she was truly a perfectionist, and I learnt so much from her. It was not only music and movement, it was the emotions behind the scene, the visual aspect, indeed the total picture came alive for me, and it was so easy for me to direct this great production with her. Recreating this production, which is actually art of yesteryear is a labour of love for me. I do hope the youth come in large numbers to see this period production which combines so much – elegant prose, period costumes, music in “shudha” raga, graceful dance.” She talks of her Guru, the unparalleled Padma Bhushan Shambhu Maharajji. “He was truly “Abhinaya Charavarty” (emperor of the art of showing an emotion visually). He taught me the now dying art of ‘baith ke bhaav dikhana’ (sitting and enacting emotions). People often misunderstand the word “mujra”. Today, it is viewed only as a form of cheap enticement; but actually it is greater and deeper than that. I have tried to pass on this unique tradition to my students.”

(Presented by Bhartiya Sangeet Sadan, the 90-minute production will be staged at Shankar Lal Auditorium, Modern School, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi, 6.30 p.m.)

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 4:48:22 AM |

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