When rhythm calls

Debi Basu   | Photo Credit: 03dfrtapati

Aloka Kanungo, Artistic Director of Kolkata-based Shinjan Nrityalaya, organised a dance recital in memory of her mentors, the stalwarts Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and Guru Raghunath Dutta in the city recently. The recital, which took place at the Satyajit Ray Auditorium of the Rabindranath Tagore Centre of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, was by Kanungo’s guru behen and senior Mumbai-based Odissi exponent Debi Basu. She presented two abhinaya pieces at the tribute event. Debi Basu took time out from her performance to look back at her trajectory in dance.


Why did you choose Odissi?

I was blessed to have Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra as my guru. I showed interest in dance since childhood. However, it was only many years later, in my 20s when I was watching a dance programme on national television, that I saw Sonal Mansingh perform Odissi. I was mesmerised by her performance, especially the abhinaya, and I knew that I wanted to pursue only this form of classical dance. I am the only one in my family to be a dancer.

How did you go about it?

At that time, there were no Odissi teachers in Bombay. It was my husband, sculptor Tapan Basu, who said, if you have to learn you have to learn from the very best. So he was the one who pushed me to go and seek the best. My friend Protima Bedi told me that Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra was going to conduct his first Odissi workshop in Calcutta. That was in 1980. I travelled to Calcutta to attend Guruji’s workshop. I was overwhelmed by him. That was when I knew that I had found my calling and I had found my guru. I had found my path and Guruji was my guiding force.

Odissi has had a meteoric rise. What do you feel are the factors responsible for its popularity?

I have to say a large part of its popularity is due to its music. Odissi music is so soothing and lilting, as a dancer-choreographer you feel half the battle is won because the music is so perfect. Also, I was lucky to be a part of the golden period when I was learning from Guruji. Genius that he was, he composed and collaborated with stalwarts such as Raghunath Panigrahi and Pandit Bhubaneshwar Mishra. Their contribution to Odissi has been remarkable. My guruji was a perfectionist when it came to performances and we imbibed the same rules ourselves and aspire to do the same. Guruji and dance were inseparable. When he took the stage, his dance would surpass the mere technicalities of the postures or the bhangis. When he traversed the spiritual realm, his connect with the audience and his involvement with the dance was strong, so much so that the audience would feel one with the performer. That was great art, when the audience felt that it was their journey and they could relate and bond with it easily. This was how the style became popular.

Who are the dancers and gurus — apart from the great names — that have made this art form grow?

Sanjukta Panigrahi and Raghunanth Panigrahi, apart from many others, made the form grow. Guru Deboprasad Das’s contribution is valuable. The list is endless.

Who would you call your successful students?

Anu Narayan and Sangeetha Rajan are both Bombay-based and are well recognised Odissi dancers and now they are teachers themselves.

Where do you see Odissi in another 10 years’ time?

We come from a generation where we were so enamoured and awestruck by our gurus that we never thought of dance as a profession. I knew that I wanted to learn but I never thought that I wanted to be a performer. Therefore, we yearned to find time and learn from our teacher. It was the guru-shishya parampara, that unrestricted full commitment that is required. In 10 years, I hope this tradition still exists. I have been so sincere in propagating Guruji’s style of Odissi that I have taken it up as my mission. The man had worked tirelessly and now it is our job to protect it. As compared to Bharatanatyam, the grammar and formalisation of Odissi is fairly new. So if too many people start experimenting before knowing the basics of it, this style runs the risk of getting diluted and lost. Popularity is meaningless if it destroys the core beauty. I know that Odissi will travel far and wide but I also urge the new dancers to remain true to the basics before trying to experiment with the form. It is like saying that a person wants to compose a poem before even knowing the language.

Do you take up contemporary issues and themes in your choreography?

The Odissi repertoire is very extensive, so new themes can be dealt with very easily.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 3:02:04 PM |

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