Remembering Mohini Attam dancer Kanak Rele, the true queen of ‘abhinaya’
Renowned Mohini Attam dancer, Padma Bhushan, Padmashree awardee Dr Kanak Rele died at the at age of 85 few days back. She was honored a state funeral at Vile Parle Crematorium in Mumbai. The consummate artist had an illustrious career spanning over six decades and was founder director of Nalanda Dance institute center in Mumbai.
Born in Gujarat June 1, 1937 Rele spent per formative year in Shanti Niketan, West Bengal, she began her journey in dance at a young age and went on to break the glass ceiling by her interest in the male dominated field of Kathakali. Mohini Attam became the calling card subsequently, her performances were marked by graceful movement, intricate foot work and highly emotive expressions. In 1973 she founded Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyala which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
An emotional Sandhya Purecha, Chairperson, Sangeet Natak Akademi said, “I am deeply saddened to learn of the demise of creative luminary and revolutionary artist, Padma Bhushan Dr Kanak Ben Rele, she had illuminated the path of artists with her unparalleled contribution and led a life completely devote to Indian art, truly a huge loss the world of Indian art, Om Shanti.”
Recalling the power house personality and who was sticker for disciple and decorum Member of Parliament, Padmashree awardee, classical dancer and actress Hema Malini said “I am shocked to hear that Padma Bhushan Kanak Rele ji passed away. A dutiful family person she was a true visionary, academician and a Mohini Attam performer par excellence. It is a day of great grief to the Rele family, the Naland Parivaar and the classical dance fraternity. I personally shared a beautiful bond with her and our relationship was that of mutual admiration and respect. It was a matter of great good fortune for me to honour this veteran of the art through Jaya Smriti, my art endeavor to support and encourage the artists of our country. I was truly honoured to unveil the authored book on the numerous incidents and events in the life of Kanak ji.”
Maharashtra Governor Ramesh Bais payed tribute to her and termed her as ‘Nriyta Tapasvani.’
I find myself fortunate and totally blessed that she gave her last interview to me in regards to her long-due book Me and My Mohini Attam just a few days before her death. Excerpts from her interview:
How did the idea of a book on your life come around?
People always kept asking me about my initial days of dancing and dance training. So I thought of telling the story through a book, which my niece Radha Khambhati wrote it for me. My father died when I was nine months old and I grew up in Shantiniketan, my heart and soul grew to like music, dance, art and all things to do with culture and tradition due to my formative years. Later my uncle Madhukar made us move to Mumbai, this is where I met Raghavan Nair ji, a Kathakali artist and singer who on our first meeting sang Kummi a folk song from Kathakali style. Honestly I got into Kathakali by default as my family did not know that Kathakali was a man’s art. The book has it all in detail.
How long did it take for you to write the book?
It took me about a year to put it all together, because I had to put my life in chronological order right from my first step, my first stage show, setting up Nalanda, travelling the world and also my personal life. Years and order were a bit messed up initially and slowly it all came together.
Which has been the most emotional chapter?
While I was still learning to dance, I had a small attack of Polio and in those days Polio was deadly and would leave a child crippled for life, even today I have a limp in my leg, but my mother and my Guru gave me the confidence and taught be how to enhance and good points and hide the flaw of the limp. My mother got widowed when I was few months old, but my family was very Gandhian in approach, when I turned 11 she remarried and post that I had a very difficult childhood. The only way out for me was to immerse myself into my dance to get away from the personal turmoil. Also I longed to hear a direct word of appreciation from my Guru Panchali Karunakar Panikar. He never ever appreciated me on my face, he kept telling everyone around me how good I was and how I will make him and the world of art proud but, to me he never uttered a word. Guess that was his way to bring perfection, hard work and focus into my dance.
Which is your most favorite chapter in the book?
When I met the love of my life, my husband Yatin (laughs uncontrollably). I was all of 17, we met because of our common interest in horses and horse riding. He invited me over for a riding session and we both lost our hearts at that very moment.
You are still dancing and performing so how does the book end?
All my star and accomplished students were upset with me that I did not make them a part of the book, so they all decided to write an homage, talking about their experiences of dancing and learning with me, that is how the book ends with love from all my dancing family.
Which student has brought credit to you as a teacher?
This is most difficult question you have asked me, all my students are dear to me and each of them are an apple of my eye. Deepak Majumdar and Vaibhav Arekar have been very close to me, Sunanda Nair is one of my prime student who understands my way of teaching very well, I also love Madhuri Deshmukh and her dance, my list is endless Sandip (she smiles and signs off).
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore from Pacific 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]