There are just a handful of sincere dancers today, says Guru Vijay Shanker
We have had many dance critics who have given their opinions or even their final word on a dance show, dance presentation, manch pravesh or a performance of an artist. It is said that a dance critics words can make or break a career of a dancer. So the position is not an easy one at all, it comes with a lot of responsibility. Today I want you all to meet Guru Vijay Shanker who is a multi-faceted personality, a renowned art critic, besides being a professional Kuchipudi and Kathakali exponent, he is also a well-known bilingual journalist, dance teacher, choreographer and actor for more than four decades. I spoke with him about his life and what it takes to be a dance critic in today’s social media world compared to the earlier times. Excerpts:
How was your childhood, did you always dream of being a dancer and an art critic?
Since an early age I was quite passionate about dancing and my first teacher was my mother Savithri Nair, who was an accomplished actress, singer and a dancer. While studying in the 9th standard in Kendriya Vidyalaya, Colaba, I won the second prize in the school dance competition and first prize in Mono action competition that enhanced my passion for dancing but it was not easy for me as my father who was a military officer felt that dancing is a feminine occupation, hence not suitable for boys but that did not deter my spirits, it took a lot of convincing but later with permission of my father I got enrolled for Kathakali as it is a dance form exclusively performed by men that made be develop more interest and fascination for Kuchipudi dance style.
How did you then move from Kathakali to Kuchipudi?
Later I was provided a scholarship by Soli Batliwala of Bhulabhai Memorial Institute to learn Kuchipudi. After my debut in Kuchipudi in 1986, it was news ‘Critic turns Dancer’ as by then I had already written for several renowned national newspapers and magazines. In 1988 I had the fortune of meeting Padmashri Raja and Radha Reddy and was privileged to seek guidance from the dynamic duo and had the privilege to be the only male student to be featured in the documentary film based on Raja and Radha Reddy.
How did your interest in writing start and when did it become a profession?
At the encouragement of then news editor of a famous national daily, Hariharan Poonjar, I started writing for the newspaper while I was still in school. Honestly writing started off as a mere hobby, but later became my main occupation. Since 1980, I have been consistently writing for various publications, I am happy to say that I have written reviews and interviews in almost all national and local daily of India and my stories have also been translated and almost all languages in India. I specialise in writing about performing and visual arts besides writing for other socially relevant topics.
What about acting then…
In 1997 I played the lead actor in Malayalam telefilm Remanen, directed by award winning director Kaviyoor Shivaprasad, opposite actress Nina Kurup. Since then I have also played character roles in Hindi, Marathi and English serials and movies, the popular ones being Chamatkar with Farooque Shaikh, Kamyabi with Upasana Singh and Bollywood films like Rajiv Ruia’s Love in India, Ajay Mehra’s Bazaar-e-husn and Sanjay Sharma’s Donno Na Jaane Kyun with Kapil Sharma and Yuvraaj Parashar. I had also appeared as a Kathakali dancer model in musical album of Talat Aziz Khubsurat along with Gauri Pradhan and Salil Ankola, Television serial Twinkle beauty Parlour with Sulabha Arya, Cool Maal of V Channel and guest appearance with models Madhu Sapre, Unnati Manikeri and Milind Soman in popular talk show Chakravyuh hosted by popular television reporter Vinod Duo. I am happy that I am the only male Kuchipudi and Kathakali actor cum dancer in Mumbai.
You are credited for lecture demonstrations…
Yes, I am particularly credited for my lecture demonstrations on Indian classical dancing, I often do this to promote national integration and global peace for educational institutions and organisations all over India. I was fortunate to be featured in the Educational supplement of many prominent newspapers in India, due to my significant lecture demonstrations, explaining and demonstrating the varied facets of Indian classical dancing, inclusive of interactive session with students, which are extremely enjoyable and interesting for all. At my lecture demonstration I dance, sing, act, change costumes as per the dance and interact with all at the same time, I have been doing this for decades and I am glad that each time I perform this people loved this immensely.
How does it feel to be awarded for your work in the field of writing and dance?
I feel truly humbled and blessed with all the awards and accolades for my unique contribution in the field of journalism and dance. Maharashtra Samaj Bhushan Puraskar, Vishnu Kaineetam award from People’s Arts Centre, Mumbai, Appreciation award from Kerala magazine, WOW Iconic award are just a few that I felt grateful receiving.
How different was it to be a dance critic before the social media world popped up and how is it now?
I feel the type of dancers and even the type of dance teachers have changed, the devotion a student had towards their guru is no more the same and also the teacher’s attitudes have changed too. Also the quality of dance has dropped too due to the same reason, lack of sincerity. Now there are just a handful of good dancers left rest are all living a fast paced life of trying to achieve fame through dance. Today’s generation of dancers don’t want to hear advice or criticism; they only wish to hear praises. Let us not forget the social media does not have a dislike button, so they want everything to look rosy they can’t take nor do they want to take criticism even if it is for their betterment.
How has been your favourite dancer who’s shows you have loved and could not find any fault at all?
Oh my, now that is very easy to answer, Vyjayanthimala, Padma Subrahmanyam, Yamini Krishnamurthy and Radha Raja Reddy have been perfectionist to the core. I have covered them extensively during the peak of their career and could never find even a tiny mistake even if I looked with a magnifying glass.
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore from Pacifica University USA, an honorary doctorate in performing arts from the National American University, He is a World Book Record holder,
a well-known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honored with three National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award by the Government
of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]