Guru Vijay Shanker
As a tribute to his mentor Pt Birju Maharaj, Pune based Kathank exponent Dr Pandit Nandkishore Kapote has instituted an award in his name. The first award was given to Padma Shri Shovana Narayan Traxl and Pandit Deepak Maharaj, youngest son of Pt Birju Maharaj on May 14.
An ace Kathank exponent himself, Dr Kapote is also a mentor and a choreographer who founded the Nandkishore Cultural Society (in 1983) and the Sitara Devi Art Museum (in 2014).
A Grade A artist of Delhi Doordarshan, he got many prestigious awards, including the Maharashtra Gaurav award, Mahrashtra State Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Dalit Mitra award, Rajya Saskrutik Puraskar, Balgandharva award, Chitrakarmi award among for his contribution towards the promotion of Kathak. Dr Kapote’s name also figures in the Limca Book of Records for teaching Kathak to a 76-year-old man. Excerpts from an interview:
What induced you to commence the Pt Birju Maharaj award?
Panditji was a legendary Kathak exponent whose disciples are spread all over the world. He was one of the finest Kathak exponents India has ever produced. This award is a small gesture of gratitude and reverence for this great personality from my side. The first Pt Birju Maharaj .Deepak Maharaj, youngest son of Pt Birju Maharaj on May 14.
Tell us about your now-famous production Mahamanav.
I always want the theme of my production to touch people’s souls and inspire them. In the case of Mahamanav, I was very impressed when I read the script written by Vijay Kumar Gavai on Babasaheb Ambedkar as a social reformer and educationist. I believe his message ‘educate, agitate and organise’ should become a global slogan.
How did you enter Kathak?
I was inclined towards dance since childhood. I started dancing at three. I stayed with my grandparents in my childhood and my grandfather who was working as Commissioner in the Revenue Dept got transferred frequently. As a result I had to frequently change my school. We were at Tilaknagar near Shrirampur where my talent was first recognised in the school. I performed for songs Madhuban mein Radhika nache re and Laaga chunari mein daag which I choreographed myself. My teacher advised my grandmother to put me under guru so that I could learn.
That happened after I saw Guru Gopi Krishna perform. I was so impressed by his dance that I decided to learn the dance he was doing – I later came to know that his style of dance is known as Kathak. I also met him backstage after the performance and requested him to teach me. He readily agreed to teach but unfortunately since I was too young my parents didn’t send me to Mumbai.
Were your parents okay with you learning Kathak
My parents did not like dance as during that time there was not a single male learning dance in Maharashtra. Both my parents and grandfather wanted me to enter Civil Services, but they allowed me to learn dance as a hobby; they thought that I would leave it after some time. That didn’t happen though.
Being a male Kathak dancer, did you face any problem?
Yes, during the initial phase when I was learning I faced many challenges, as our society does not look favourably on male classical dancers. I never disclosed to my classmates that I was learning Kathak as they would make fun of me. But later, my talent started getting recognition and everything changed for the better.
Tell us about your Gurus.
My first Gurus were Prabha Marathe and Guru Munnalal Shukla (nephew of Pt Birju Maharaj). I completed my Diploma and Degree course in Kathak through them. Gradually, I also started giving stage performances. Post this, I got the National Scholarship from Department of Culture, Government of India. My grandfather was not really happy but my father supported me. I moved to Delhi to continue my further training in Kathak under Pt Birju Maharaj under the Guryu-Shishya parampara.
Please share your experience with Pandit ji?
With Pt Birju Maharaj, it was Guru-Shishya parampara that I learned under. When I began with him, I felt altogether like a new student of Kathak. His dancing is so unique and his way of teaching so catchy that learning under him was a blissful experience. Maharaj-ji is not only great as a guru, teacher, performer but also a great human being. I used to spend the whole day with Maharaj-ji in dance and later in the evening, I would go to his house. I was treated as a member of their family. I was with him for 10 years.
Which all countries have you performed so far?
I have been to Russia and Holland along with Shovana Narayan Traxl, to Kuwait with Uma Sharma and to USA and Russia with my mentor Pt Birju Maharaj. I have performed in Japan, Malaysia and Thailand as well. I really enjoyed performing in these countries. The audience abroad is mesmerised by our dancing. The Russians and Japanese even learnt Kathak from us. .
What are your future plans?
I wish to create more productions and choreograph new subjects. I will continue to spread many more social messages through Kathak. I want to take Kathak to new heights.
Any wishes left unfulfilled?
Yes, of receiving the Padma Award (smiles).
Guru Vijay Shanker is a professional Kuchipudi-Kathakali exponent, teacher, choreographer and an actor. He is also an art critic and has been contributing to national and international publications for over four decades.
His lecture-demonstrations on Indian classical dancing for educational institutions and social organisations
is a fine combination of education and entertainment. Connect with him at [email protected]