Sunday, May 29, 2022

Of Star-Crossed Lovers And Dance Performances That Evoke Lord Krishna

Feroz Abbas Khan's new play Raunaq & Jassi tells a tale about a love that transcends boundaries. 'Morn to Dusk' dance performance celebrates 50 years of National Centre for the Performing Arts.

Of Star-Crossed Lovers And Dance Performances That Evoke Lord Krishna

To think about crafting a stage play out of a magnum opus like Mughal-e-Azam would have been considered foolhardy till Feroz Abbas Khan pulled it off successfully. Now, he aims to reach higher competing against himself, with his new musical, Raunaq & Jassi. A love story, not quite Romeo and Juliet, but still, the lines are in verse.

Deciding not to meddle with the tried and tested, Khan has Neha Sargam, who previously played Anarkali, to play the female lead. Piyush Kanojia is the director of music and Mayuri Upadhay is choreographing the dance sequences.

(From the play Raunaq & Jassi. Photo by Supriya Kantak)

Teaching the actors to make the blank verse, written by Iqbal Raj, sound natural was a never-done-before  experiance.   As was creating a Punjab of the 1950s; Diction, music and all, including a retro wardrobe to match,  put together by Manish Malhotra.

Khan insists the love story is symbolic and a result of “the times we live in, as theatre is at its most potent when it stays in the realm of the metaphorical.” The moment we become obvious or literal, it loses power, he says.

Hate and love are universal emotions that have existed since the beginning of mankind. Khan’s play aims to show that the emotions are larger than caste, religion and state or country. And Raunaq and Jassi, like all other star-crossed lovers, prove that love is the stronger emotion.

This play resonates with the young lovers while brings back nostalgia for the old. The play is running in Mumbai, at Mukesh Patel Auditorium, NMIMS, Vile Parle.

Excerpts from Morn to Dusk -- Final day of celebrating 50 years of NCPA, Mumbai

(Ajoy Chakrobartty and Pandit Birju Maharaj)

Curated by Swapnokalpa Dasgupta, the dance performances were chosen to “represent multiple styles with variations.” Dasgupta says her aim was to honour all the dancers who had associated over the years with the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) and had stories to share.

By adding dance appreciation and lecture demo modules as part of the total experience of dance, Dasgupta hoped she was aiding the development of the audience and nurturing in them a greater understanding of and appreciation for classical dances.

Indeed,  the selections made for the Morn to Dusk performances on December  1, proved that a curator could balance the classical with the contemporary with perfect ease.

Sriyah, by The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble Company would have made Protima Bedi smile with pride. Executed with the grace, typical of the dance form, and with a passion that illuminated the dancers’ movements, the three short performances were a perfect blend of music and movement.

Krishna played a starring role in almost every dance form. If Odissi had an excerpt from Jayadeva’s sensual Geet Govind, Aditi Mangaldas sought to decipher the mystery of Krishna as the breath of life; while Malavika Sarukkai took inspiration from miniature paintings to recreate the Ras Lila of Krishna and Birju Maharaj mimed a half reluctant Radha to a Krishna adamant on crossing the license permitted by tradition during the festival of Holi.

(The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble Company)

Two musical interludes punctuated the dance programmes. Shiv-Hari, performing with their usual, celebrated magical chemistry had the audience give them a standing ovation, and when Pt. Birju Maharaj and acclaimed vocalist Ajoy Chakravathy sang one of the Kathak maestro’s music compositions in tandem, while the latter delineated the emotions evoked by the words in mime, the applause was a wave that would not recede.

Aptly named, Morn to Dusk kept every seat in the capacious Tata Theatre filled through every show.

But Birju Maharaj had the last word when while congratulating the audience for being both immersed and attentive, he prayed to them that they should train the future generations to be equally interested in the classical arts, to keep the richness of the Indian traditional performing art forms alive in the future too.

A fitting reminder indeed, though a chilling one!


(The writer was the Editor of Femina for over a decade)