Kathak dancer Mukti Shri, who made the Nawabi City her home after moving from the United Kingdom, a couple of years ago, says that unlike cities like Pune, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore, the arts scene is moderate in Hyderabad. Having said that, she affirms that she is committed to generate further the Art interest in the city. “I have not had any support from the Telangana Government yet. But I would appreciate the government to help retrieve the glory of Hyderabad as another cultural capital where great maestro such as Ustad Shaikh Dawood Khan spent his life in this city. It should not only be the state government’s responsibility, but the public as well as companies should support Art in various ways,” she says.
The Hyderabad-based dancer Mukti Shri reveals that Kathak became her first priority because of her Guru Vidushi Shama Bhate ji, who had imparted training of the highest-level making her appreciate the nuances, be good at it and love the art form. “Also, I guess Kathak was my destiny. If given an opportunity, I would have learnt vocal along with Kathak. Amongst all the art forms, having a melodious voice is one of the best gifts one could have. In any case, I would have still been an artist,” says the dancer with a child-like happiness.
Mukti was initiated into Kathak by her mother, who was genuinely interested in music and dance. “My mother in her younger days could not pursue an Art form and she ensured that I would learn music and/or dance. Fortunately, I was put in Kathak and here I am. I started learning from Mulla Sir in Pune since the early age of 10 years. After a couple of years of training with him, he advised me to move to a more senior Guru and then I was inducted into training with Vidushi Shama Bhate ji. That was the turning point where it was almost decided that I would take Kathak as my career,” says the artist. She adds that in the past 10 years, she has also been undergoing further training in Laya Shastra from Padma Shri Taalyogi Pandit Suresh Talwalkar.
Pandita Rohini Lineage: The dancer shares that they follow the lineage of Pandita Rohini Bhate ji, my Guru Shama ji’s Guru. “Rohini Bhate ji learnt predominantly from two Gurus namely Pt. Lachu Maharaj ji of Lucknow gharana and Pandit Mohanrao Kalynapurkar ji of Jaipur gharana. She developed a distinct style of hers and following this, my Guru Shama ji further added her own aesthetics combined with strong command over rhythm. Since my Guru got guidance from Pandit Suresh Talwalkar ji, she imparted the highest-level rhythm into the dance,” she says, quickly adding: “As a result, we got best of all the world, bringing the right balance of aesthetics as well as rhythm.”
Mukti confesses that Kathak is her life and beyond learning, practicing, performing and teaching the Art form, she has no other priorities. “I am also a Director of ArtHub, which is an App-based platform for connecting global artists and organisers. ArtHub organises live and online events and I support several initiatives,” she says. The Kathak guru states that she has around 30 students in India and the UK, and among them Aayushi Dixit, Rajat Pawar, and her daughter Anvi Shri are the three senior students. “All these three learn Laya Shastra at the highest-level from Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, but when it comes to aspects of Kathak, I guide them. Other students are at different levels and hopefully in a year’s time some of them will start performing on the stage,” she says. Mukti Shri’s registered dance institution is ‘Kalavati School of Dance and Performing Arts’, inspired by the name of her spiritual Guru ‘Kalavati Aai’.
Difficult To Say: The Kathak artist says it is difficult to tell one’s favourite composition, as it would not be fair to the repertoire. “However, compositions that have tongue twister language are a favourite to recite as it is challenging to practice and perform. In Abhinaya, I love to perform thumri. The Gat Bhav is another favourite as without the support of words, a dancer has to convey a story through her abhinaya, which is in itself very challenging,” she says.
Mukti Shri prefers performing to a live orchestra. “The relationship developed on the stage between the dancer and the Tabla and Pakhawaj players, the recitation support is ecstatic and incredible. One key constraint is the level of financial commitment from the organisers to pay remuneration and travel of four members of live orchestra. Also, the remuneration for good artists who play with me is quite high,” she says. The dancer further states that when she used to travel to Europe from London, she used to mostly perform on recordings.
The Kathak dancer says that artists have opportunities to perform all over India and also abroad. “One key challenge is that many times opportunities come only through referrals and word of mouth. There is no standard approach for artists and organisers to systematically assess artists ability to perform and give equitable opportunities. India is a treasure full of art forms and artists, and you just need to discover it,’” she says.
Performed Alongside Guru: The dancer reveals that she has been very blessed to get lot of opportunities to perform along with her Guru in various festivals in the early days. “After I went to Bangkok, Thailand, to teach the students of Indian Activity Centre, I got quite a few opportunities to perform in the country including a performance in front of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at the Royal Palace. Other notable performance was when I shared a stage with my Guru Pandit Suresh Talwalkar in Bangkok, which was one of the memorable moments, I would cherish and celebrate all my life.” The dancer’s other cherishable moments include her performance with Pandit Yogesh Samsi in Cambridge, UK and she hopes that she will have many more such opportunities with him. “I also have been extremely fortunate to perform at various festivals with world renowned Drum Player Trilok Gurtu, including Nyon festival in Switzerland, International Rhythm festival in Istanbul and others in Germany and France,” Mukti says.
The Hyderabad-based dancer says that she always feels fortunate to have a loving and supportive family without which it wouldn’t be possible to pursue a dance form where return on investment in form of both Riyaj and finances is low. “Having said that I am blessed to be pursuing a career in arts and keep contributing to our great culture and the country,” says Mukti, before bidding bye!