My fascination for classical forms has resulted in me meeting and interacting with many dancing legends of India, be it Sonal Mansingh, Pt Birju Maharaj, Mallika Sarabhai, Hema Malini and many more. I have had the privilege of seeing them mesmerise the audience and even dine with me. One such recent interaction I had was leading classical dancer Padma Shri Madhavi Mudgal, a highly renowned exponent of the Odissi style.
Our conversation with her made me realise that she believes in doing her best and leaving rest to the God. Madhavi was born into a family devoted to classical Indian music. Her father, Pandit Vinaya Chandra Maudgalya was the founder of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi, in 1939. Initially, she studied Bharatanatyam and Kathak under eminent gurus but finally chose Odissi as her medium of expression. A prime disciple of legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, she is credited with bringing a greatly refined sensibility to her art form.
She has received repeated acclaim in major cities and dance festivals that have featured her throughout the world apart from been associated with the making several films and audio-visuals on Odissi as well as with the organisation of some of the most widely appreciated specialised dance festivals in India. Talking to such a devoted and accomplished person was a pleasure for me.
Establishing a niche in the international dance scene as a soloist, she has received critical acclaim for her choreographic works: her extensive training under renowned gurus from childhood, and her family’s musical background having provided her with a rare insight into the art of choreography. Her commitment to the continuation and augmentation of her chosen art form has seen her as one of the foremost teachers in her generation, initiating beginners as well as senior students into the finer nuances of Odissi at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi. She has also conducted workshops in the dance form all over the world. Numerous awards and honours have come her way, including the Sanskriti Award, Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and many more.
I could not control myself and had to ask her some question that were running in my mind when I got talking to her. Here are a few for all you dance lovers:
You trained in Bharatanatyam and Kathak before taking up Odissi as your preferred medium. Why? And how did it help you in Odissi?
Lyricism and subtlety of the form attracted me. When I was introduced to dance, only Bharatanatyam and Kathak were available as classical styles. Later, the language barrier with Bharatanatyam and the showmanship of Kathak made me switch to Odissi which had begun to be taught in Delhi just then. Also, the challenges offered by an as yet nascent form. Other classical dance training equipped me with an insight into varied dance vocabularies. This helped me comprehend Odissi technique in a holistic manner. Tala was definitely strengthened due to Kathak. Bharatanatyam enriched my understanding of abhinaya and geometry.
How do you feel being awarded so many honours at different platform?
I feel glad and elated. I thank God for all the blessings and love the dance world has showered on me. I strongly believe that as a dancer I should do my best and leave rest to God to decide. I dance to dance, not to get awards.
Can you tell me about your work at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya? Why do you think Odissi has been unable to get a strong foothold in India?
Apart from teaching Odissi to various age groups, junior and senior, I am involved in preparing a teaching methodology that will be of benefit to all students of the style there is a lacuna in this field, since there is hardly a standardised understanding of even the basic grammar of the style among various gurus. I am also involved in composing and choreographing pieces for solo dance as well as for groups. Odissi is gaining popularity in India now but a few years back, it was not so popular. But today it is widely known along with other classical forms.
You began ‘Angahaar’ festival, first-of-its-kind. It was well received too but then fizzled off? What went wrong?
Odissi dance revival began in 1960s by Dev Prasad Das, Guru Pankajcharan Das and Kulucharan Mahapatra. They were the key people behind it then. Angahaar was mainly to popularise the dance and bring about awareness of different styles of it. Once the main purpose was achieved, we did not go ahead with the festival. Now is the time to experiment meaningfully with dance and understanding the roots well.
Bollywood is all over today. Being a Ballroom dancer, I take up Bollywood projects so does Pt Birju Maharaj. You are an accomplished dancer and a choreographer but you never ventured into the film industry?
I like Hindi films and appreciate work of Pt Birju Maharaj and you, Sandip but I am not cut out for the film world. But if an Odissi-based work comes in a film, I would love to do it and create more awareness of Odissi.
Meeting artistes like Madhavi Mudgal makes me realise that a dancer is known to follow his or her heart, a dancer does wat he or she feels is right and never bother of what people will say or feel. This carefree attitude makes a dancer be like a free bird who can fly wherever it wants to. Madhavi Mudgal is one such dancer who has always followed her heart and never bother to look to back after she did what she did. And with God’s grace what followed were numerous national and international awards, worldwide recognition, admiration, adulation and a status of a Guru par excellence. With this article I want to thank Madhaviji to be a silent teacher to many dancers.
Sandip Soparrkar is a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with National Achievement and National Excellence Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]