Friday, April 30, 2010

Rescued by Bollywood: Or How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love Kathak

The thing about being out of India is that the moment I hear of anything even remotely connected to India, I feel I must experience it. Yesterday, I actually found myself considering attending some loud, over-the-top Baisakhi festival at Trafalgar Square -- the kind of affair I would have certainly turned up my nose up at, when living in India. Academics would call it my search for identity in an alien land or some such.

What else but my "search of identity" could have led me to Sadler's Well theatre last Tuesday for a Kathak performance by Akram Khan? After all, hadn't I decided early on in life that Indian classical dance and music was not for me? So, naturally, as I sat down on my seat, I nervously wondered whether I had signed myself up for more Indian culture than I could take in one evening.

I tried to take courage from Akram Khan's impeccable reputation - a dancer of Brit-Bang origin (my short form for second-generation British-Bangladeshis), who has not only mastered classical Kathak, but also modern dance, and by combining the two has apparently breathed new life into Indian classical dance in the West. I hoped to find solace in his modern-take on classical, if not classical dance itself.

I needn't have feared. Just because I never actually attended Kathak performances myself, doesn't mean that all along Kathak hadn't been visiting me. It had - through all the Bollywood films I had grown-up watching. As I saw Khan sway and twirl elegantly, I found myself revisiting the dance sequences (particularly, the infamous mujras, come to think of it) of so many films through the '50s and '60s, and found myself absorbed by the performance. Heck! At some point, I even felt tears well up in my eyes. Nostalgia - we are all such suckers for it.

In fact, at the end, I actually enjoyed the first half more, which was entirely in Kathak than the second-half, in which he performed Kabuki-style modern dance.

I don't know whether it was Khan's best performance or not. Maybe, he missed a beat or two here or there. Maybe, he didn't. Who cares? I was just happy to realise that I had known and loved Kathak all my life, thanks to Bollywood.

Watch Akram Khan talk of Kathak:

And here's a Bollywood version:

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