CHENNAI : In the last five years, Shritha Baskar, a 25-year-old guru has taught Kathak to over 250 students between ages five and 50. “Five years ago, people in Chennai mistook Kathak for Kathakali. Today, the art form has come a long way. People recognise it and are willing to learn,” says the founder of Taraana Academy of Kathak. As the dance school gears up for its fifth anniversary programme, ‘Antarang’, we caught up with Shritha amid rehearsals to find what’s in store.
The artiste-cum-mentor is known for her love for experimentation. While she occasionally subverts the existing idea about the art by fusing the age-old dance form with contemporary music, Shritha’s routines are like ‘Kitsugi’ (golden joinery). She pieces a repertoire of music genres together with ‘shudh’ Kathak. “This is what we intend to do in our show as well. Antarang will celebrate the different music genres in India — from Sufi, Hindustani, Ghazal, folk to even cinema music, with nothing but pure Kathak,” she explains.
Talking about the ideation of the theme, she recalls, “I asked my younger students to pick songs for their warm-up session. They chose Bollywood and western songs and that’s when I realised that not one child asked for an Indian classical or folk song. There is lack of awareness about the rich Indian music genres. I decided to curate a programme with a blend of different music.”
Shritha started training in Kathak at the age of five under Ketaki Hazra, a disciple of Bela Arnab. Being trained in the Jaipur and Lucknow Gharana of Kathak, Shritha earned a senior diploma in Kathak from the Surabharati Sangeet Parishad, Kolkata. Originally from Dubai, she shifted to Chennai for higher studies.
Ask her ‘Why Kathak?’ and she credits her mother. “My mother was awestruck by Kamal Hassan’s dance performance in the film Salangai Oli (1983).
He performs pieces of every style in the film and Kathak caught her eye,” she says. “Though my mother didn’t have the means to learn the art, she was a great patron. She wanted one of her daughters to learn the art form. My elder sister learned Bharatanatyam and I learned Kathak. In the last two decades, Kathak has become a part of my life,” says the artiste, who has several performances to her credit which include regular recitals for the Diplomatic Corps of various countries, at the Indian Embassy and the festival of India in the Gulf region.
“From Chennai, I used to often travel to Delhi and Hyderabad to attend Kathak workshops. During one such time, Pandit Birju Maharaj, impressed by my dedication suggested I start a dance school in Chennai and spread the word about Katahk in the south. With his blessings, I started the studio in 2013,” she shares.
Incidentally, Kamal’s Vishwaroopam had just released and Shritha recalls that one of the songs in the film, Unnai Kanadhu Naan, a Kathak-based routine, created quite a buzz. “People started noticing Kathak. Today about 300 students learn the art form in my studio and the journey has been gratifying,” she adds.