Pandit Birju Maharaj is a living legend and an institution in himself. He represents Kalka-Bindadin gharana of Lucknow
Yoshika Sangal | December 9, 2016 | New Delhi
Pandit Birju Maharaj is a living legend and an institution in himself. He represents Kalka-Bindadin gharana of Lucknow. He has mesmerised artists and audiences in India and abroad with his Kathak skills. He is also an accomplished vocalist and musician. He can play all string instruments like Sitar, Sarod, Violin and Sarangi. His choreography in Bollywood films like Devdas, Umrao Jaan, Dedh Ishqiya and Bajirao Mastani has earned him a lot of appreciation. He has established Kalashram in Delhi, which imparts training in the field of Kathak. He is recipient of Padma Vibhushan (1986), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Kalidas Samman.
You started giving Kathak lessons when you were as young as 13 years...
My family has been maintaining the legacy of Kathak for the past eight generations. Kathak riyaaz in our home would start from 4 am every day. I remember watching my father and uncles practising. That’s when my father realised that I had an inclination towards dance. After my father passed away, my mother took me to my uncle, Pandit Lachhu Maharaj, in Mumbai from whom I learnt Kathak. At the age of 14, I started teaching at Sangeet Bharti in Delhi.
How was your experience in Bollywood?
Working with Madhuri Dixit was a good experience. She has the bhav and bhavana in her eyes and grace in her movements. Earlier, only one dancer used to choreograph all songs of a film. Now the trend is that all songs of a film are choreographed by different people, which looks weird. Nowadays everything has become so western. Songs are very loud. Music of the Sitar, Sarod music by Naushad, Vasant Desai, Shankar Jaikishan and Madan Mohan are classics. They are heard even today. I have never followed the filmy style in my choreography.
How do you see the changes happening in this art form?
The present form of dancing is like that of circus where artists perform and audience claps. Today dance is referred as ‘item’. They say, “Five minutes ka item karna hai.” Hence, your concentration is on those five minutes only so that at the end, the audience claps and appreciates. We should not be hungry for appreciation. One should respect the classical form of dance.
Is the government doing enough to encourage classical dance artists?
The government gives scholarship only for two years, it gets extended for three years. Post scholarship period, what do they expect the artists to do? If the artist gets a job he or she has to teach a variety of dance forms. So the whole essence of what you’ve been taught; your talim [learning] goes away.
How has technology impacted dance?
These days, the emphasis is on lighting, music and make-up. In our times, we used to put a simple kajal. But now, thousands of rupees are spent on these. If your dance lights up the room, you won’t require different lights.
What are the most essential quality of a dancer?
The emotions must reflect from the eyes of a dancer. Dance should not look like wrestling. It must include beautiful and graceful body and hand movements. Moreover, appreciation doesn’t matter. Dance is like a painting.
(The interview appears in December 1-15, 2016 edition of Governance Now)
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