Sujay Shanbhag’s artistic repertoire is a rather vibrant one for he is not only a bharathanatyam dancer but also a classical Carnatic vocalist, mridangam player, ‘yakshagana’ performer and an active theatre artiste.
He says that these supportive arts help him choreograph his performances. Art is innate to him, for he shares, that his parents were always fond of Indian classical performing arts.
“They played recordings of legendary maestros that lulled me to sleep as a kid and I often caught a glimpse of classical dance programmes on TV. When they heard acclaimed odissi dancer Kelucharan Mohapatra’s name from my mouth at the age of three, they decided to gift me as a treasure to the field of art,” says the 19-year-old. He adds, “On shifting to Mysuru, I saw an article in a magazine about venerated bharathanatyam guru, Vasundhara Doraswamy, and the pictures really fascinated me. I demanded to learn dance from her and started practising at the age of five.”
A second-year BBA student of Surana College, Sujay has a list of achievements but the most recent milestone in his career was the ‘National Bal Shree’ award conferred upon him for ‘creative performance’ in January at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi. The prestigious President’s award was given to him by Central HRD Minister Smriti Irani.
“The competition has four streams — creative performance, creative art, creative writing and innovative science. I was the lone representative from Karnataka in the creative performer category. The national level had 18 rounds that lasted five days. It was completely about impromptu creativity and nothing based on what you learn from your guru. I was the first person to receive the award from her and it was a really emotional moment for me!” he recollects.
He is also the recipient of many state and national level awards like ‘Natya Mayuram’ (2015), ‘Gangu Bai Yuva Puruskar’ (2013) and ‘Natya Harsha’ (2012). A B-graded Doordarshan artiste, he has been receiving the Central HRD ministry scholarship for eight years and also got the ‘Sangeetha Nritya Academy’ scholarship.
So how does he manage to pull off those captivating moves with such aplomb? “When I dance, I focus on ‘abhinaya’ (expressions), which is the difficult part, while keeping the performance real as well as appealing to spectators. Practicing ‘kalaripayattu’ and yoga has helped me maintain my fitness and stamina.” He regularly devotes two hours to practice and will take the ‘vidwath’ (final exam for dance) in October. On alternate weekends, he travels to Mysuru to train with his mentor Vasundhara and teach bharathanatyam to students in Hubli.
With all the dancing prowess, Sujay says that “dance is God’s gift to me” but “academics is equally important.” With priorities set right, he wants to pursue an MBA along with a PhD in dance. “I am truly grateful for my guru’s support and parents’ encouragement, especially my mother, who would travel long distances with me for dance training. I want to spread the essence of Indian art and culture in rural areas as those are the roots of our country and also pass it on to the next generation,” he expresses, looking forward to many more glittering performances.