Kathak Dancer and founder of Tatvamasi Centre for Performing Arts, Mitha Kathakar, who made Hyderabad her home in December 2009, looking back on the cultural scene of those days, says that when she decided to settle down in the Nawabi city, only a couple of Gurus had made their names in Kathak. “Chennai and Bangalore were culturally rich, and Hyderabad, I felt was very dry artistically in 2009. Now, the times have changed. Thanks to the Internet for providing information and our Telangana Government (Department of Culture) for actively organising and supporting many programmes of varied Art forms, people have started to realise that there are other styles too in the Indian Classical Dance,” says the Kathak dancer.
Born into a family of musicians, Mitha has grown up with Sapta Swaras. Her grandfather Pandit DS Garud was a Hindustani Classical Music and Tabla Maestro, while her mother is also a performing artist and teacher in Hindustani music. “As a kid, I was very much interested in random dancing on Bollywood numbers. But my interest in dance manifested into actual training in April 2001 after I watched my Gurus Nandini Mehta ji‘s and Murali Mohan ji‘s Live concert in Bangalore. Fortunately, Nandini ji‘s house was just a lane away from my grandfather’s place. So, my family supported me to pursue my interest. When it came to late night practices or travelling for performances, I was never stopped. It was definitely an added advantage for being born in the Classical Music family which has helped me understand the dance form even better,” says the ever-smiling petite dancer.
Learned Other Art Forms: Apart from learning Kathak at Nandini ma’ams Narthan Academy of Dance and Music (NADAM), Bangalore, Mitha learned and performed Folk Dances. For a period of three months, she learned western Ballroom dance styles like Salsa, Rumba Cha-cha, but the love for Kathak was greater. For a period of two years, Mitha did learn Odissi, an art form she loves and confesses that if she had not pursued Kathak, then she would have been an Odissi dancer. “I was so much in love learning Odissi that the dance form started influencing my body movements in Kathak, so I had to discontinue Odissi. Other dance forms really made me understand my style better. I absolutely don’t regret having tried these new dance styles,” admits Mitha.
The Kathakar states that the base of her training has been in Lucknow Gharana. “The hallmark of this style is ‘Nazakhat‘ or ‘Lasya‘ – Elegance or Grace which is combined with the Hindustani Classical music like Thumri, Dadra and Hori. Guru Pandit Birju Maharaj ji, is the living legend of this style,” she says. The Kathak dancer says that as she tried other dance forms, she did try other Gharanas too. “Every Gharana requires same amount of ‘Riaz‘ – Practice. There are major differences between the Gharanas, and can be sighted mostly by the trained Kathak dancers and dance critics who see the deeper aspects into these styles,” she says.
Differences In Gharanas: Explaining the basic differences briefly, Mitha says: “Jaipur Gharana focusses more on bol patterns that are unusually complex! We can say this style is the ‘Tandava‘ side in Kathak. In my opinion, amalgamation of Lasya (Lucknow Gharana) and Tandava (Jaipur Gharana) has already been done by many dancers including myself. Just that, only a person with an eye for it can really catch the difference between the two. I love to experiment, explore and experience, but I always want to come back Home, where my roots are,” says the twinkle-toed dancer. She says the mool mantra for any dance or Gharana is ‘RIAZ’.
The founder of Tatvamasi Centre for Performing Arts, says that in the initial years of setting up her academy, only students from the Army background, most from them from Hindi speaking families, would join the class and later quit after their parents were transferred to another place. “In the later years, I got many Telugu/ Kannada/ Tamil speaking students too. I share a unique bond with all my students. They equally have immense love and respect towards the art form and towards me,” says Mitha.
A Graded artist of Doordarshan and empanelled ICCR artist, the Kathak dancer says that the pandemic continues to impact on a huge scale on every artist, on the training front and their performances. “Initially when the Lockdown was announced in 2020, it was the most challenging time. I had committed to paying rent for a huge commercial space. For almost four months we did not have any classes. Online sessions were not working for us. It was only by October 2020, I decided to shut down the commercial space and start online. The challenge still continues online, the network issues and the lagging issue. So, I take Individual one-on-one sessions. The number of students has come down to the ratio 5:1. Well, some things are inevitable and we need to be ready to soak in any challenges that come our way and give the best that we can,” she says.
Back To Sketching: With not many commitments during the lockdown, Mitha started sketching again. “I discovered that the interest I have towards visual arts is the same as I have for Kathak. In this one year, I have explored not just sketching, I taught myself how to use colours. It never matters what we do as long as it gives us pleasure and satisfaction of doing something productive. I have started a page called ‘Paintings and Stories’ on Instagram. Those interested can have a look at my works,” says the Kathakar. The painter says that her subject of interest is Nature. “But I keep myself open to try new things where I get to learn and test my skills and understand the patterns, light/ shadows, alignment etc.,” says the dancer.
The Kathak dancer states that as an Artist, Performing and Visual both, my small tip is, if we do anything with 100% involvement, the result will be by default Amazing. “Never run for a by-product (Money, Fame, Followers etc). Aim at improving your skills in the respective fields, be grounded and accept that you need to improve every time. Rest all will be taken care of in a magical way that you wouldn’t have even imagined,” says the joyful Mitha.