TheCalmDev (Dev J Haldar)

ravings, rantings and ramblings

Kathak Festival – Disappointing Day 2

The following post is a very personal opinion and does not reflect any professional or institutional viewpoint.

The septuagenarian Pandit Birju Maharaj, sat watching his disciple Pali Chandra and her troupe from Gurukul, Dubai, showcase the dance form of Kathak which he popularised. When the god of Kathak is the chief guest for the Kathak Festival, the stakes automatically go up high. The two hour plus show, unfortunately, went the other way. It seemed like a tacky Karan Johar production. Overheard somebody compare the show to a school annual function. In all honesty, I would tend to agree. (Is Kajol in the house for a teary-eyed National anthem?)

I have not seen a more crowded production. Or a more stage-crammy production. Or a more mistake-riddled production. That said, I must clarify that I have worked in enough productions and seen many more to know what it takes to get a ‘school’ production look professional.

Why were there so many dancers on stage ? Was there a compulsion to put all students that were enrolled in Gurukul to be put on stage? If that be so, then how does one instil the level of being stage-ready? How would one react if all students from the local driving school were let loose on the streets of Dubai because of a promise that someday they will be able to drive? I was beginning to wonder if enrolling in Gurukul was a ticket to get on stage.

Co-ordination or the lack of it was order of the evening. When hands went up in the air and froze at the end of a piece, one couldn’t help but notice how displeasing it looked. One dancer looked like an elephant with its trunk up while the other looked as if she was pulling a trunk down from a loft. Clearly lack of practice! Group dances have a certain given. It wasn’t given here.

There was no stage balance. An entire stage management team was thanked and felicitated but for what? For presenting a dis-balanced stage of dancers? Or for introducing a band of girls under 3 feet and making it all seem asymmetrical? When there are two bands of dancers, on stage right and stage left, doing what we understand as ‘jugal-bandi’, why were other dancers let loose on stage as if to fill in the blank space?

When there is an emotive and evocative piece being executed by a genuinely good dancer, why is there a need to have three dancers prance around like wild impalas in the savannah? When 6 dancers are sat on the floor, emoting a beautiful love ballad, then why were a few dancers taking the attention away like cheerleaders in the IPL? Why was it so difficult to see that some pieces needed that amount of space. Maybe, it is an undue expectation.

The entire evening was supposedly bound by a narrative structure. Such a lovely narrative structure that it held the audience’s attention span for as long as a goldfish could last remember. It was the most weak and inconsequential narrative seen in a very long time. The story of how Kathak progressed through time was very contrite and lack-lustre. There was certainly no need to ask ‘posed’ questions to kids about how important is the dance for to them. And the pièce de résistance was when an old couple walked across the stage and one narrator asked them a question about Kathak’s relevance. A vox pop as lame as the ones on local news channels was certainly very irrelevant. Add to that the couple didn’t have a microphone. So we didn’t care to lip read and neither did the narrator carry the message. The narrative structure certainly needed a professional touch.

While on that professional touch, special mention of the three stage-frigid gentlemen who were the three narrators. Bad pronunciation, bad enunciation and very bad stage presence killed it completely. If  ‘connoi-sheer’ and ‘fir’ is comes to my ears (and that of a purist, I might add) then I’d rather listen to chalk screeching on a blackboard!

And who was in the control room? Whoever it was needs a better MS Office training! Imagine a slide show suddenly come on the Windows interface where the next correct slide was being searched! Besides I hate it when inane visuals are presented when there are dancers who are trying their best to do what they do; otherwise, why would you have a Rajasthani semi-nude while a Krishna-ballad performance in progress?

Every musical piece started with a jump! Since the entire evening was choreographed to recorded music, I fail to understand why was it so difficult to start it without a jump. Very bad handling.

So, this K-Jo or Shiamak Davar style glitzy, glam, Dubai presentation needed to be at least an hour shorter and a lot crisper. So disappointed with the overall production, it will take a harder sell to get me to sit through it next time.


22 comments on “Kathak Festival – Disappointing Day 2

  1. Kruti
    June 19, 2011

    Totally agree Dev… This would have a passed off as Gurukul’s annual gathering, but certainly not as ‘Journey of Kathak’. The least they could have done was to use some original classical music and not its fusion form. It was a huge disappointment, more so as Maharajji was the guest of honour. The whole session was more a ‘show of strength’ than a ‘show of talent’

    • Dev J Haldar aka Calmdev
      June 19, 2011

      Unfortunate, but true Kruti.
      And the day after when Pandit Birju Maharaj and Sashwati Sen enthralled us and showed us what the real dance form of ‘Kathak’ really is.

  2. Dshah
    June 26, 2011

    Hey Dev,

    i must say that if anyone wants to learn on how to write ruthlessly on a blog should come to you to learn. Your harshness typically shows on what kind of a character you could be as typically you have absolutely no idea on how much time and effort on the whole a production goes for. if you have any single knowledge of Kathak than you could not be writing this. whoever has the write to openly write about anything should have all the knowledge of what they are going to write and than write. it seems you have spent more time with the animals in Kenya hence all you can see and write about is animals and that is the reason you have animals mentioned in your comments. without knowing the comments from Pt. Birju Maharaj you have thought to write about the show. since you don’t even know what choreography means hence instead of appreciating it you have called it stage balance, you poor knowledge on the whole shows in your writing.

    Rightly said Dev, it was a school production and a school that has students coming to them only for an hour a week. Pt. Birju maharaj was amazed when he saw the entire spectrum of Kathak, the entire journey of kathak that includes folk kathak, temple kathak, court kathak, sufi kathak and contemporary kathak…. beautifully choreographer and danced by these students. Yes, they are new and have a long way to go, and for many this was their first step into kathak. But that is what Gurukul stands for. Giving all their students a chance to confidently stand and address a crowd of 500+ audience at the tender age of 5 years. not everyone becomes a professional dancer, but all can do with a little confidence building in an every walk of life.

    Obviously you have little knowledge of Kathak. But keep in touch, we will help educate you…

    btw………….. i shall definately send you the bill of learning the MS office since you have highlighted it hence i definately appreciate that thanks on that comment.

    both you and Kruti needs to come for kathak training.

  3. Jilna
    June 26, 2011

    Hi Dev,
    My daughter is one of the GURUKUL student and i am one of the proud mothers who are overjoyed with the progress of my daughter. overjoyed that my daughter is going to a school which prestigious and having a renowned teacher, who has received several awards and has done lots of work. I am even happy that my daughter was able to meet Pt. Birju Maharaj in person all due to this school only.
    With my knowledge of Kathak i am aware that my daughter is learning Kathak and is learning all the principles of Kathak also. this is the only school in Dubai where my daughter is going to get an international dance certificate which is fully recognized.
    I am sure you did not have anyone from your side on the stage and that is why you had to write in this manner. since it is a school it is important for all the children get a chance to be on stage and it was beautifully choreographed by their Guru but i guess you did not see that part.

    • Dev J Haldar aka Calmdev
      June 27, 2011

      My wife was one of the performers that evening. Probably goes to show that this is an objective overview.

  4. somna
    June 27, 2011

    Having an opnion is great Dev and I agree that we each should be allowed to have one. But should it not be stemming from knowledge, experience and training? Which one of these do you have to call yourself a kathak dance critic. Watching a few shows of famous artists gives you such a command over the subject that you think you can bring anyone down? What do you know of the reasons behind Gurukul’s ideologies? Have you ever tried to find out more about them before writing about them? Do you know what Pt. Birju Maharaj thought of Gurukul on the very same evening that you have criticised so deeply? He thinks that Gurukul and Pali Chandra have done what none could have dreamed of. They have brought communities together and is spreading Indian art and culture in a huge way, reaching out to the masses and giving them a point of connect. We must each try to use our intellect and abilities for the greater benefit of the society which is what we at Gurukul are trying very hard to do.

    • Dev J Haldar aka Calmdev
      June 27, 2011

      Somna we spoke about the questions that you have raised.
      Sincerely, these are my opinions, very personal ones and I am sure I am allowed to do ‘talk about what I feel at home or (web home)’.

  5. Shridhar
    June 27, 2011

    Hi Dev – I enjoyed being part of the Journey of Kathak – for me, as a parent of one of the dancers, and as one of the “stage-frigid narrators”, this journey was definitely a journey of discovery. I was proud of the kids who took the courage to perform, inspired by those who performed inspite of their limitations (which obviously you did not notice), humbled by the presence of Pt Birju Maharajji. I do take your comments on my pronunciation in good spirit, yet I hope and believe that disconsonant voices such as yours are only rantings, ravings and ramblings (as you rightly title your blog) of a cynic who cannot and will not see beyond your own view of the world. As someone said, “it takes no special talent to see the faults in others, it does take special talent to see the goodness”. Hope you have the courage or the humility to publish this. Believe me, if I were you, I wouldn’t call myself a purist – with the “oh-so” inadvertent errors in your blog. Best wishes

  6. Dev J Haldar aka Calmdev
    June 27, 2011

    Shridhar, I acknowledge your comments. We haven’t met but I have always wanted to tell you that your daughter is a fantastic dancer.
    While on that, I still remain entitled to my views and wonder why my “personal blogspace” is such a contention to many!

  7. Rajani Shridhar
    June 27, 2011

    Hello Dev
    Art is an ocean and to dive into the salty waters, takes a lot of grit and determination. I am sure, you being part of numerous productions would understand and appreciate this fact.
    An individual performance or a presentation by the cream is much easier to showcase, but to present over 100 students on stage requires liberal thinking, broad outlook and a clear vision. No body is or can be perfect. Acknowledging the fact that mistakes and imperfection come along as a package deal is something, every true artist knows. I am sure if you would ask any artist from any genre, the answer would be the same. How much ever we would have practiced, the stage is the only platform which gives us the real lessons and that was what Pali Chandra wanted each one of her students to experience. In my opinion, that was commendable.

    As humans we are so trained to be balanced and feel uncomfortable at the slightest asymmetry. But have you ever wondered that there is a beauty to asymmetry…..I personally enjoyed that part of creativity by Pali. Its like having one small peak amongst many high mountain peaks . If God can create asymmetry why not us humans? It just takes that extra courage to do that and appreciate it.

    I am not a dancer, but Pali Chandra brought out that hidden capability in me, helped me achieve that dream at least once in my life and I cant thank her enough for that.

    You surely are entitled to have your opinion and so do we. Thank you, Dev, for all the compliments that you have given us openly and in disguise. Any opportunity to improve is welcome by Gurukul because we believe in constant learning. To critique a show requires more knowledge than the actual performance. I only have one question to you….Why are all the critics so time frozen and unacceptable to innovation and learning?

    Best wishes to you Dev and I hope we all grow more and more mature in our perception.

    • Dev J Haldar aka Calmdev
      December 9, 2011

      Thank you Rajani for your comment. Probably one that accommodates my views as well as yours. Agree and disagree with the asymmetry bit; however that is open to invidual choices. I do understand the weightage of symmetry and asymmetry.
      As for the question you have raised – am afraid it is not so. Critics are not frozen in time, neither do they speak down from their ivory towers. Who said that they unbending to innovation? The popular ones we see and read might not be the best of the breed but there have been many who have had the courage to speak up about their craft and skill. Your husband criticing your culinary skills doesnt make him frozen in time, does it? It only means he was expecting more.
      Crtics somewhere have higher expectations.
      Happy that you see my point, or at least tried to, as opposed to the orchestrated many.
      Thank you again.

  8. Kruti
    June 27, 2011

    If this show was open to ‘Public’ you should also be open to ‘Public Opinion’.
    I am not dis regarding the effort you all put in, but from an audience perspective, one just felt that it did not do justice to conveying the ‘Journey of Kathak’. If the objective of the show was to put all your students on stage – including first timers – you should have clearly stated it. Infact it should have been ‘by invite only’ and reserved for the families of the people performing. I came to your show looking for an authentic journey of kathak – and was disappointed to see what came my way and hence the comment.
    Team Gurukul – try and look at it more constructively than to attack it with vengeance.

  9. shru
    June 27, 2011

    Couldn’t agree with Dev more. Thank you for opening up this subject for discussion. Completely spot on in identifying most of the terrible flaws in the production. As one of the gurukul students, i was embarrassed to be part of the show and had been discussing all these issues within the group prior to the show.

    In its greed to collect more fee, gurukul has taken on hundreds of students, severely diluting the quality of teaching, since one woman can obviously not give proper attention to every student. Their greed doesn’t just end there. Compelling every participant to buy a minimum number of tickets, forcing us pay significant amounts for hideous, garish outfits, holding expensive “workshops” to teach almost bollywood like songs and then making us pay “term fee” to practice those non-kathak songs.

    Your animal analogies are not out of place Dev, for many weeks prior to the show some of us were saying we feel like goats and sheep being herded along.

    The show essentially was hundreds of clumsy “dancers” in garish costumes, tacky slide shows, a terrible mélange of every genre of poorly chosen music (yoga kathak on a hard rock jugalbandi??), cringe inducing self praise by the ill-conceived three narrators, whose script was an insult to the audiences’ intelligence; it was a grand spectacle of mediocrity, presented to the legendary Pt. Birju Maharaj, who sat with a blank expression throughout.

    Paliji, being such an experienced and renowned dancer, you are expected to understand the beauty of simplicity and the power of less.

  10. dshah
    June 27, 2011

    Kruti, we definately welcome any comments to improve every production but the comments on the blog was surely not comments meant for improvement, it was written purely to show the GURUKUL effort down. this was purely a school production and it was even advertised in the same manner so if you Kruti or Dev were coming to see a professional show than its totally your misunderstanding as you had come with some expertation which probably did not meet. once again since it was a school annual program it is important for each and every student to get a stage space, if you have child and go to a school annual show wouldnt you want to see your child on the stage or it would have been fine for you not to see the child on the stage?

    If the show was such a let down for you than could you pls tell me why did you stay behind to watch it till the end, why didnt you leave immediately, there must have been some portions of the show which you liked and made you stay behind to watch full show.

    by all means you can be critique about anything but there is a limit towards critizing, one does not compare humans to animals by bringing an elephant’s trunk going up and the other one trying to pull it down, by bringing wild impalas on the savannah…. you seem to be doing a good job on writing about animals stick to that as you do not fit to the level of writing for humans.

    • Dev J Haldar aka Calmdev
      June 27, 2011

      Hahahaha… this is becoming a muddy field.
      Not that I am squirming, but honestly – let a personal blogging space be as personal. If anybody wishes then please go ahead and write your own blogs and praise it to the skies.
      As for me, I will go back to the animals – they are less hateful!

  11. Swati
    June 27, 2011


    Generally I would have ignored your write-up. But I am writing so you know what the parents feel when you write so negatively about their child’s 1.5 years sincere effort.

    The 17th show was aimed entirely at showcasing what our children are learning at Gurukul Dubai. Your comment does not hold ground as perhaps you are not a parent of a Gurukul Dubai student or a participant. Had it been so, you would have been able to appreciate the magnitude of what you witnessed.

    It surely wasn’t a powerplay in progress!! as you have so very incorrectly assessed. It was a well rehearsed and practised performance by kathak enthusiasts who NEVER for a moment wanted be COMPARED to Panditji and Shashwatiji who are their idols.

    Please try to be a responsible critic if at all you feel so strongly to be one. That sincere effort would surely get you somewhere. Most importantly, please be sure of using the correct language when your write-ups are directed towards little girls , MINORS to be exact!!


    @ Somna, Jigna, Shridhar, Dishna,
    I guess we should save our comments and share our thoughts with a genuine art critic and not a biased RJ. 99.9% positive feedback surely outshines one ignorant remark on a personal blogspot which has no fan following whatsoever.

    I get an impression that this guy is only trying to get mileage out of GurukulDubai’s successful event by what they call as Negative publicity.

    • Dev J Haldar aka Calmdev
      June 27, 2011

      Dear Swati
      First of all thank you for subscribing to the blog of a “biased, publicity-seeking radio presenter”.
      Second of all, my post is not up for evaluation. It is a personal space and will remain so. Obvisously you havent read the post with an open approach, perhaps you were ‘invited’ to read and comment on it.
      My write-up, in no way was directed at MINORS but at the MAJORS who were choreographing them.
      Third, my wife participated and she is no first-timer. I could have been a biased husband while writing this and praised it to suit everybody’s fancies. It is an objective and personal viewpoint.
      Fourth, you are correct in assuming that all praises should outshine one negative write up. But from the looks of it, it is not really the case.
      Fifth, thank you all for making my blog such a ‘read’ item.

  12. Anushree
    September 2, 2011

    Hi Dev,

    I am very glad to find this blog… I have been wanting to share a few of my thoughts as well…on this particular subject.

    1st of all so that I may make my credibility clear for whomsoever it may concern.
    I am a classical dancer and have done my Masters in Fine Arts (major in Bharatanatyam), which qualifies me to be an art critic. Have been learning dance since the age of 3yrs, did my “arangettram” (Rangapravesh) at the age of 10. Learnt & performed Kathak as well for a good 4 yrs.( This is not once a week, its everyday!!)

    Let me start by saying that I come from a small town Nagpur, but culturally we are far more rich & superior to Dubai. Considering the quality of Performing arts here…especially Indian classical dance. We are blessed to have things like the Kalidas Festival in Napur, where artists of caliber perform & give powerful performances which are no less than an hour!!
    I have in my short time (3 years) in Dubai…been very disappointed with the cultural scene here. It is shocking to see that running a dance institute here, is more of a money making business than a genuine way of imparting knowledge. That said I have no issues with people making money; but the standard of dance is very poor. I can understand as a parent, people wanting to have their kids perform on stage. But you possibly cant do that just because they are paying you a fee. As a teacher you have a responsibility towards your students & towards your art!!
    Its strange that in the 1st yr of learning a student is allowed on stage…. when actually u can get the status of a performer only after the completion of a gruelling 4 or 5 yrs of training. Yes, its a different thing when its for an annual show. But still!!! I have been teaching in India for 12 yrs & we have never let a child get on stage before 2 or 3 yrs of training…unless the child is really a very good performer & very hard working. But a year is not enough time to have a child perform on stage!
    I will definitely hold the teachers here responsible for this situation.

    Coming to the Gurukul festival. It was a very big disappointment indeed. I did not buy any tickets for the 1st day…as it was clearly a show for the family & friends of the kids performing. I cannot help but feel I was fooled into the second day( I bought 2 tickets @300)…when I went all prepared for a spectacular 2 hour performance by Birjumaharaj & Shaswati sen. But at the end of it, got just 30 mins of their performance!!!! (600 bucks not well spent!!)
    Its obvious that, to boost the sales of the evening the ticket & the add only mentioned an evening of Birju Maharaj & Shaswati Sen’s performance! But to my horror I was forced to sit through performances by individuals and a bunch of dancers who claimed to be professionals ( I might mention that this excludes the Delhi performers. The Dancers from Delhi were far superior in their act,even than the local Guru. The 1st rule of a group dance is to maintain synchronisation & symmetry, non of which were present in the group dance performances. Even the choreography was not anything extra ordinary. On the whole the Gurukul festival was a mediocre event and had I not gone only to see Birjumaharaj & Shaswati ji….. I would have definitely walked out of the show.(which as a performer I might add, is the ultimate insult!).

    • Dev J Haldar aka Calmdev
      September 2, 2011

      Anushree hello
      Thank you for your weighted comments. Unfortunate but true!

    • Sathya
      March 7, 2013

      Hello Anushree,

      My daughter is interested to learn Kathak. If you are training any studentsin Dubai or Sharjah, could we get in touch with you. Please write to us on


      • Anushree
        April 4, 2013

        Dear Sathya,

        Firstly thank you so much for writing in.Well about the kathak classes, I have learnt and performed Kathak but only out of my personal interest in the dance form and under the guidance of my Guru 🙂 I don’t really think I am qualified enough in Kathak to teach the same. I am a trained Bharatanatyam dancer ( Kalakshetra/Pantanalur & Mysore styles). In case your daughter or anyone you know wants to learn Bharatanatyam, kindly let me know.

        I reside in Dubai, opp Burjuman Centre.
        All the best finding a good Kathak teacher for your daughter.


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This entry was posted on June 18, 2011 by in Old Chronicles and tagged , , , .
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