It's all in the family!

GURU'S LEGACY

Dancer duo:  Ratikant and Sujata strike a dancing pose.

However, almost seven summers later, the husband-wife duo has put all these doubts and apprehensions at rest as they have not only carried forward the legacy successfully, but have managed to take the institutions and forums created by Kelucharan, popularly known as Kelu Babu, to greater heights.

“Initially, it was difficult when we realised that we have to carry forward such a huge legacy. Subsequently, it became easier as Guruji had already created a solid and perfect platform for us,” says Sujata, an ace Odissi dancer herself, like her husband. She was also a disciple of the late famous dance guru before she and Ratikant decided to tie the knot and settle down.

When Sujata talked about a perfect platform, she certainly was referring, among other things, to Srjan, currently a popular name in dance and cultural circles, not only in Orissa, but also in the entire country.

In the year 1993, Kelucharan, a recipient of Padmashree, Padma Bhusan and Padma Vibhushan, decided to set up a dance school of his own in Bhubaneswar to expand and promote Odissi and groom future generations of Odissi dancers. Now the school, Srjan — Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Odissi Nrityabasa, so fondly established by the legendary teacher, has turned into a world class dance institution, thanks to the efforts of the husband-wife duo. The school attracts students from across the globe.

“Earlier, I had attended a workshop in California. But I would have certainly missed a lot had I not enrolled myself in the institute here,” says Amanda Geroy, a student from USA who has been frequenting Srjan every winter for the last few years to improve her dance skills.

While Ratikant functions as the director of Srjan, Sujata is the principal of the dance school. Both of them regularly teach budding Odissi dancers the skills and techniques they have learnt from their late guru. Significantly, the husband-wife duo has been carrying on with their present responsibilities right from the inception of the institute, which clearly indicates that Kelu Babu was already grooming the two of them to take over his responsibilities when the right time came.

In 1995, as the director of Srjan, Ratikant had instituted an award in his father’s name to give recognition to veteran performers in the field of dance, cinema, music and theatre for their contribution to performing arts in the state of Orissa. The award, which carries a cash component of one lakh rupees, is still being given every year and the demise of Kelucharan has had no impact on it.

In fact, the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award ceremony and the annual dance festival accompanying it has become a mega event in Orissa’s cultural calendar. Dance lovers in the state capital of Bhubaneswar now eagerly wait for the annual colourful show every winter.

Srjan also organises ‘Marga Darshana’, a unique dance festival exclusively for male dancers, every year. This annual event in Bhubaneswar is fast gaining popularity among both participants and dance lovers.

Apart from these two cultural events, another dance festival being showcased by the institution is ‘Samsmaranam – a sacred remembrance’, in memory of the late dance guru. This event is held in Bhubaneswar every year on April 7, Kelu Babu’s death anniversary.

Srjan is no longer confined to Orissa alone. It has already branched out with the opening of a Kolkata chapter in the eastern metro since 2005. “Kolkata was very close to guruji’s heart. Moreover, the city has produced many Odissi dancers of national and international repute who were guruji’s students. We decided to open the Kolkata chapter to continue with the tradition,” says Sujata.

Along with the dance school where the senior faculty of Srjan has been teaching Odissi to young students, the Kolkata chapter of the institute also organises a major dance festival named ‘Deesha’, on January 8 every year, to celebrate Kelu Babu’s birthday. One of the major objectives of the festival is to promote solo dancing, which is the very soul of classical dance. At the end of the festival, an individual performer in the 16-28 age group, gets the ‘Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Yuba Pratibha Samman’.

Srjan also has its own repertory group of 25 Odissi dancers which performs from time to time both inside and outside the country. Apart from performing as part of the repertory group, both Ratikant and Sujata have also been giving individual performances throughout the year in different places in India as well as abroad.

“Both of us give over 50 individual performances every year,” says Sujata. In fact, when this writer visited the dance school, Ratikant was away on a tour to the US.
Often described as ‘young Kelucharan’, Ratikant, who has been giving stage performances since the age of 16, is also a popular choreographer. He has already choreographed over 30 new Odissi dance items. All of them have received enthusiastic responses and accolades from audiences as well as critics for their innovation and fluency. A few years back, he had an opportunity to showcase his talent on celluloid when he was approached to choreograph Odissi dance sequences for an Indo-Chinese movie called The Desire. And Bollywood actresses who danced to his choreographic skills were Shilpa Shetty and Jayaprada.

Mesmerising: Dance does all the talking.For all his accomplishments, he has already been acknowledged with a number of awards, including the Pride of India 2004, Sanjukta Panigrahi Samman 2005, and Nrutya Bhusan awards at an international dance and theatre festival in 2005.

Sujata has also not remained far behind, as her list of achievements includes the Pt. Jasraj Award, Mahari Award, Aditya Birla Vikram Samman, Raza Foundation Award and numerous others.

Significantly, in the years to come, it may not be difficult to pass on Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s legacy to the third generation as the legendary dance teacher’s grand daughter, Preetisha, the daughter of Ratikant and Sujata, has decided to follow in the footsteps of her parents and grandfather. “She has already started giving stage performances,” says Sujata, the proud mother.

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