In tune with the old world

Subhash Chandra. Photo: Pranay Gupta   | Photo Credit: Pranay Gupta

Just over a week ago, Subhash Chandra presented one of his disciples, Saumya Deojain, in her first major solo recital of Kathak. The performance was attended by a number of senior artists across disciplines and a significant observation by the stalwarts present was that Saumya’s guru had ensured an adherence to the old world technique, a respect for the vilambit (slow) tempo without rushing into drut, and an inward looking approach to dance that is rare today.

Concepts of newness and a race to impress audiences prompt many artists to try to produce ‘new’ work at every performance. Sometimes this results in a mere tinkering with the old pieces. Subhash, however, says that whatever he received from his gurus he tries to present as far as possible without change.

“Say I dance amad or a paran that I learnt from Rebaji (Reba Vidyarthi) and which she learnt from Shambhu Maharajji. I try to do it just the way it was taught to me,” he explains, adding this lack of dilution is something people today find refreshing.

He, however, has no problem creating new compositions where the dancer feels an inner conviction and it all falls into perspective when Subhash quotes the late dancer and guru Rohini Bhate, with whom he shared a great rapport till the end of her life. “Rohiniji used to say, if you dance for the audience all your life, what accomplishment would there be in that?”

Guru Subhash Chandra has imbibed different aspects of Kathak from his several gurus – a list that begins with Guru Mohan Krishna in Varanasi back in 1976 and ends with Guru Reba Vidyarthi, under whom he trained in the guru-shishya parampara for 10 years till 2005. In the intervening years he came under the tutelage of the legendary Mohanrao Kalyanpurkar and later Guru Munna Shukla. For an artist to have put in three decades of dedicated studentship in the latter part of the 20th Century – an era that was in a hurry – shows remarkable immersion.

“I am lucky I had the chance to learn so much,” he states. “Today when I am over 50, I feel I don’t know a whole lot, but at least I have learnt a thing or two.”

Subhash says his moving from one celebrated guru to another happened “on its own,” rather than through any conscious effort on his part.

“Soon after my ganda bandhan (ceremony to initiate a disciple) with Mohan Krishnaji (brother of the famous Gopi Krishna and nephew of Sitara Devi), I got admission at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) where I learnt music under Pandit Balwant Ray Bhatt.

At that time BHU was frequented by great artists, and I was influenced by them. Around 1979, Kumudini Lakhia came to give a lecture demonstration and I felt I wanted to learn from her. When you are young you are impressionable, but Kumudiniji, instead of taking me on as a student, told me to attend a workshop that was about to be conducted by Mohanrao Kalyanpurkarji. I attended that intensive workshop and it changed my life. Then, from 1979 till 1984, I trained under him in Bombay.”

When Guru Kalyanpurkar was diagnosed with cancer, says his disciple, he sent Subhash to Delhi in 1984 to further his training under Guru Munna Shukla of the Kathak Kendra.

“From 1984 to 1993 I was with Munna Shuklaji,” he recounts.

Rather than any stylistic adjustments, Subhash says the big difference he found at the Kathak Kendra was that he was now learning in a group.

“I was used to one-to-one attention from the guru,” he admits, but adds that ultimately it is up to the student to put in the hard work. “One thing that never deterred me was what was going on around me. I knew what I wanted.”

The girls in his class might dance impressively, he says, but he was not disturbed by a sense of competition, knowing he had something unique of his own.

Subhash, who has been teaching at the Kathak Kendra since 2012 but earlier conducted private classes, says he has moulded several serious dancers though many disappeared into academia or marriage.

Teaching with dedication is important to him.

“From 1979 onwards, I had to teach to earn a living. This made me more aware of my own technique.

I would drill my students and then go home and practise with the same discipline,” says the guru who finds it hard to confine his lessons to institutional timings.

Kathak is often considered an exhibitionist performing art and one whose repertoire lacks conformity.

Subhash feels it is “such a vast canvas, with such liberty” to design a performance that “you can take Kathak to great heights and also let it sink very low,” depending on the performer’s intellectual capacity.

As for conformity, he points out, “In 1942, at the Bhatkhande Institute under Pandit Ratanjhankar, Guru Mohanrao Kalyanpurkarji designed a 12-part repertoire for Kathak, similar to the Bharatanatyam margam. This was even published in Marg magazine.”

However, he notes, it didn’t catch on, and dancers organise their programmes according to individual preference.

“Speaking is part of the Kathak presentation tradition, and this provides a loophole.

Some people speak too much, trying to build audience rapport.” Generations ago, at mehfils filled with learned spectators, this extra effort was not required, he notes.

Subhash and his students are recognised for the grace of their ang or body movement.

This signature aesthetic he imbibed from Reba Vidyarthi.

But this guru was also known for the subtlety of her philosophical interpretation. Subhash observes, “It is this (philosophy) you learn from a guru.

You don’t stay with a guru for 14 years to learn compositions.”

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 12:21:36 AM |

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