Kathak exponent Pali Chandra, who was in Kerala recently, speaks about her 'Learn Kathak' channel on YouTube which is growing in popularity
By Shevlin Sebastian
Anup Singh (name changed) had a dream. He wanted to be a dancer. But in his village at a far corner of Rajasthan, it seemed like an impossible dream. His family members expressed their disapproval. “Because, according to them, this was not something that men normally do and, secondly, it was not lucrative enough,” says noted Kathak exponent, choreographer and educationist Pali Chandra.
But then, one day, as Anup was surfing the net, he came across the 'Learn Kathak' channel on YouTube which features Pali giving classes for beginners, as well as intermediate and advanced students. On Wednesdays, the classes are for free.
So, every Wednesday, Anup locks his bedroom door and logs on to the channel. Then he starts doing the moves himself. “He says he is the happiest he has ever been in his life,” says Pali. “And not just him, people around him are also glad. And every week he drops me a line either asking a question or appreciating me. And that always brings a smile to my face.”
Incidentally, the classes which Anup watched are in Hindi, which Pali had started owing to demands from students.
The Zurich-based Pali was in Thiruvananthapuram recently shooting several new lessons for the media production company Invis Multimedia, with whom she has been associated for the past ten years. One day, when Pali came to work, she got a surprise. On a small computer table, there was a cake on which it was written, 'Congratulations Guru Pali Chandra – 50,000 subscribers.'
“This is unbelievable,” she said, as she cut the cake amidst clapping by the employees of Invis. “This is not the work of one person but of all of us. We have a synergy, which is helping to draw students to the channel.”
Not surprisingly, many of the students are from the Indian diaspora all over the world. For Indian students, who want to take the full course of 222 lessons, in English, the annual fees are Rs 20,250. For Hindi students, it is Rs 6750.
However, she has some words of advice. “I tell my students that someone should keep an eye on them when they are doing the practice,” says Pali. “That way, they can get a proper body alignment, and the right way of bending and moving forward.”
Sometimes, students send recorded performances of their work to Pali for an evaluation. After viewing their videos, Pali gives her comments and feedback.
Even as Pali is imparting lessons, it has also been a learning experience for her. “I have learnt which are the best camera angles that can be understood by the viewers,” she says. “I need to have a language that can be easily understood.”
Another lesson has been imparted by the students themselves. Many of them ask her questions and that has enabled her to think deeper into her technique and the history of the dance form.
It seems she is doing something right. Because her students are showing their appreciation by posting comments on the channel. Dr Priti Karmacharya writes, “This music, this dance is bringing the ultimate peace to the soul. I am mesmerised.” Sagaya Deepa says, “I am 37 years old but the passion for dance made me want to learn Kathak.” Ranjeeta Kaur says, “The way you teach Kathak is fabulous.”
This fabulous teacher grew up in Lucknow and began studying Kathak under Kapila Raj of the Lucknow Gharana at the age of seven. Her other gurus include the late Vikram Singh and Pandit Ram Mohan Maharaj.
Asked about the state of the art, Pali says, “Kathak is growing in popularity because it is able to mould itself to the environment. So, there is ballet and Kathak, jazz and Kathak, and so on. There is a lot happening beyond the infrastructure of classical dancing. We are trying to preserve and change at the same time.”
As for her future plans, Pali is determined to put her work online as much as possible. “My guru Vikram Singh had said that we need to pass our knowledge to future generations,” she says. “I am also working on a book where I will focus on definitions and techniques.”
Finally, Pali remains ever-grateful for her enriching life. “God has been kind to me,” she says. “I bow down to the force which has given me a job that I love. There is not a single day that I feel that I am going to work. It is almost like I breathe dance. And when I do dance I am so happy. It has been a beautiful journey.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)
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