Remembering a maestro

Shekhar Sen will showcase his version of Soordas at the festival  

Such was his talent and dedication that by the age of 36, Pandit Durgalal of the Jaipur Gharana was already a recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, one of the highest honours in the field of performing arts.

Six years later, in 1990, his death following a cardiac arrest after a marathon kathak performance in Lucknow left the art world numb.

His death had created a big void for his disciple Uma Dogra. One of India’s most accomplished kathak dancers, Dogra was only 29 when she lost her guru of 18 years.

Durgalal, hailing from Mahendragarh, Rajasthan, was not only a kathak maestro, but also a proficient player of the pakhawaj, a percussion instrument widely used in dance performances. In remembrance of her guru, Dogra, who is also a teacher and choreographer, has been organising the Pandit Durgalal Festival every February since 1991, under the aegis of the Samved Society for Performing Arts.

“I think of myself as a very unfortunate shagird (disciple),” says Dogra. “My guruji taught me for 18 years but he left this world at such an early age that I could not do anything for him. Just the fact that his name is associated with this festival is enough to fill me with enthusiasm. It gives me an opportunity to talk about his work, celebrate his role in my life, and also recall memories of precious times spent with him.”

In its 26th edition, the two-day festival of dance, music and theatre will start on March 5. On the first day, Shekhar Sen will perform a musical mono-act titled Soordas. Over a span of two hours, he will present episodes from the life of the 15th-century saint-poet, who composed thousands of bhajans dedicated to Lord Krishna. Soordas, instead of being bogged down by his visual impairment, had sought fulfilment through music and spirituality.

Sen’s versatility will be on display as he takes on the responsibilities an actor, singer as well as a music composer for this show. Soordas will attempt to highlight how the mystic spoke of a personal encounter with the divine, and was opposed to religious fanaticism. Sen will also showcase glimpses of Soordas’ interactions with important historical personalities such as emperor Akbar, singer Tansen, and saint-poets Tulsidas and Mirabai.

Dogra is particularly excited about Sen’s show because this is the first time that the festival has included a component of theatre. The dancer reveals that no performer has been repeated in the long history of the festival. Dogra wants to have a variety of artistes performing instead of bringing back hot favourites.

The second day of the festival will feature veterans such as flautist Pandit Ronu Majumdar and kathak dancer Pandit Deepak Maharaj (son and disciple of the legendary Birju Maharaj). For Majumdar, the invitation to this festival is special because he and Pandit Durgalal worked together on Ghanashyam, a dance-drama written, composed and choreographed by Pandit Ravi Shankar.

“Pandit Durgalal and I performed together in London, Birmingham and many other places in the UK,” says Majumdar. “I think this was in 1989, shortly before he left this world. He used to play the character of Ghanashyam in the ballet, and was excellent in his portrayal of what can happen to an artiste trapped in alcohol and drug abuse.

“I remember him with great fondness and respect. Paying tribute to him is going to be a deeply emotional experience for me. The shankh-bansuri, which I am known for, was something I invented in Pandit Durgalalji’s presence. We could not find a conch while touring the UK, so I found a way of producing the sound of a conch using the flute itself.”

. Speaking about Pandit Deepak, Dogra says, “He is a very talented dancer from the Lucknow gharana. What is special about him is that he is primarily a soloist. That is rare these days, because most performers of kathak join troupes or get into choreography. Mumbai’s audiences are lucky that they will get to relish his interpretation of the kathak.”

For Dogra, the MD of the Samved Society for Performing Arts, the guru-shishya (master-disciple) relationship is central to the training as well as performance of classical arts. She hopes to emphasise on this relationship during the festival, especially for her students. “When my students help me in organising the festival, they get to interact with a lot of masters. They learn to respect each of their art forms. And I try to pass on to them what my guruji taught me: When you sit in the audience, sit as a disciple to learn, not as a judge to evaluate,” she says.

Pandit Ronu Majumdar will be accompanied by Pandit Kalinath Mishra on the tabla. Pandit Deepak Maharaj will be accompanied by Ustad Akram Khan on the tabla.

Venue: Sardar Patel Sabhagriha, Bhavan’s College Campus, Andheri (W). Date: March 5 and 6. Time: 6.30 pm. Entry is free.

The author is a freelance writer

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 8:30:21 PM |

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