In Conversation with Dynamic Danseuse and Founder of AMRAPALI (Society for ARTS) Pranamee Bhagawati
Pranaame Bhagawati is a dynamic and versatile artiste. She is a danseuse specialising in Kathak, a choreographer of Kathak and Sattriya in international dimensions, an author and a cultural activist. She has received acclamation not only in India but has also represented India in countries like Germany, Dubai, UK, USA, Guyana, Tanzania, Maldives, Qatar, etc. She has received Gold medals for Kathak dance performances, twice by the Government of India. Pranamee is the convenor of the dynamic Board of Applied Integrated Arts (AIA BOARD), Guwahati. Her choreographies were presented in recognised festivals under Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Tourism, Directorate of Cultural Affairs, Sangeet Natak Akademi, ICCR, corporate houses, organisations, etc.
- Please tell us about your childhood.
Ans: I have been attracted to dancing since my childhood. The main person who encouraged me and supported me all throughout to pursue my passion is my father. My mother's contribution has always been there but my father's support has been integral. I was born in Guwahati and belong from the printing press family that is the Saraighat Printing Press family. My father was a businessman and my mother too, being involved in the same business, did everything they could to encourage me to pursue dance. I started learning under my Guru Shri Bipul Das and continued my training until the age of 16. I represented Assam several times in national level competitions like the Youth Festivals hosted in and around Delhi, Haryana.
- Tell us about your educational journey.
Ans: I started my schooling in St Mary's English High School, Guwahati and continued my higher secondary from Handique Girls' College. I actually got married early and continued my Bachelors and Masters from Hisar after my marriage and also simultaneously dedicatedly working in internationally revered residential school wherein I was appointed as a Choreographer and involved been an International Cultural Exchange Programme Coordinator. I completed by BA with Sociology (Hons.) from IGNOU and Masters in Mass Communications from Guru Jambheshwar University of Science & Technology, Hisar (Haryana).
- When and how did you realise your love for dance?
Ans: There is no specific time that I can recall but everyone in my family says that once when my father saw me moving my body to the tunes of a song, he decided to put me into dance classes. That's how my journey as a dancer began but the sense of responsibility for being a dancer came only after receiving awards and medals. I represented Assam for the first time in National Children's Festival organized by the Ministry of Youth &Sports Welfare and the Government of India. Receiving such an honour again at the 7th National Youth Festival, organised by Govt. of India in Hisar (Haryana) first made me feel a sense of responsibility towards dancing and that it was not love for art alone but my duty to preserve and promote the heritage of dance.
- Would you like to share your perspective on the present day scenario of classical dance forms in India?
Ans: The scenario of Indian classical dance forms had many different aspects before and after independence. After independence, the government and various agencies autonomous bodies have had a distinct role to play concerning collaboration and sponsorship of the Indian classical dance forms for promotion abroad. Initiatives like recognition and popularization was pivotal to the Government. In the present day scenario, there is a huge difference of Indian classic dance form in comparison to 15 years back. I will not say that western form has taken over but yes, most people have got a tendency often to accept something which does not belong to them. There could be multiple reasons, maybe they like it more or maybe it is different from the Indian classical dance or people have grown up watching it on TV, it can be anything. Also, in some cases, Indian classical artists are a lot more conventional in their approach. We must prioritize the dance and teaching techniques as per the time demands. Because now we have a global platform, anyone can popularise themselves through the YouTube or any other internet source.
Today if we watch a reality show, the least we can see is the Indian classical dance form. I hope we get to see more Indian classical dancers in the reality shows instead of just western and we come up with some form of structure to promote the Indian classical dimension specifically. Even Bollywood has most movies with western dance movies but simultaneously historic movies like Bajirao Mastani and Devdas focused on Indian classical dance form specifically Kathak.
- Do you think westernisation has an impact in attrition/wearing away of the cultural heritage of Indian society? What are the other probable reasons which have led to people not appreciating their own ethnic dance forms?
Ans: No. I don't think westernisation has an impact on attrition of Indian classical dance form. We Indians are strong enough mentally because we are one of the oldest civilizations. Thousands of years back we had books and dictionaries of Indian classical dance, Indian music, Ayurveda and a lot more. We have already done a lot of research thousands of years back. So I won't say western culture had an impact but if we do not have an exploration for our children to our own culture than that is an alarming situation.
Coming back to the other reasons, I feel we have become too conventional with our approach and an idea that learning classical dance form will take our whole life, etc but learning anything takes all our lives. Learning is an ongoing process all throughout. But when we draw a dimension of seven years or eight years, that way when a dancer learns from his/her childhood, then its fine but if a person in his 20s-30s wants to learn dancing and requires such a long term period of seven years, they become sceptical about it. For the convenience of those busy in professional life, etc we must also understand that we can make it concise or reduce the duration of the course that would require half the time of seven years to learn Indian classical dance form.
- How do you think can we solve this problem
Ans: We familiarize our students with the concept of Kathak as a part of their daily life. Suppose, talking of the Mudra or Taal that is calculative and make it easier for them to relate it to their subject. We make them enjoy dance forms without being too conventional or being specific to the grammar part because the most important part of dancing is to have love for it. Whether someone wants to become a dancer or not is a separate issue. If one has love for it, definitely his/her children end up developing some form of interest in it. The cycle exists in that way.
- Have you ever found yourself juggling amidst family and dance as a profession?
Ans: I belong from a family that has been supportive always. I still remember in my school days in class 9th or 10th when I was having my half yearly examinations and I told my father that I have to cancel a dance programme because I had not studied, and to which my father asked me why hadn't I studied before and why I chose to miss this programme. I don't think any parent would ever say this to their children but my father did. He made sure I did everything I had to do for my passion and always prepare for it. You have said no to something which you loved and this programme will not return back to you and you missed it. This programme may be small or big but it will never return to you and you missed it. That was the first and last time I ever said no to a dance performance. In some cases, I missed my practical classes academically but never said no to dance.
- Would you like to tell us about your family and how did both you and your husband happen to become dance partners?
Ans: My husband Rudra Jayanta Bhagawati hails from Majuli island. He did his Sattriya training in Kamalabari Sattra. He won gold medal for his dance and later moved out for further studies and to learn dance. His performances in dance availed him a scholarship from Cultural affairs. He studied Kathak Dance under many recognized Gurus from Bhatkhande Music College, Lucknow wherein he took technical training and he completed his Nritya Nipun. He studied there for 11 years in Lucknow and further received Fellowship to learn Kathak at the Kathak Kendra, New Delhi in the Staff cum Ballet Unit under Padmavibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj. Later he learnt under as Guru Shishya Parampara, an informal training under Birju Maharaj by staying in his own residence for around 4 years. He has a lot more to his journey but yes, right after one year of marriage, we had our first international tour that was an Indo-German Cultural Exchange Programme. Maybe, I am blessed to have a supportive family and to have a partner with whom I can dance my whole life. Me and my husband, we talk, discuss, dance, fight but ultimately we bring out one dance production. I have learnt a lot from him and he too has ideas of collaboration with me. Both our families have been immensely supportive of our dance form and respect our love for art and there's nothing more we could ask for. When husband and wife are from the same profession, I think they are best friends to understand each other's profession. Both our families were interested in getting us married and definitely we both wanted the same because we respected each other's passion and love for dance.
- Tell us about your organisation Amrapalli, society of Arts.
Ans: The AMRAPALI (Society for ARTS) is a socio-cultural organisation concentrating upon various activities relating to arts, culture and heritage. It has initiated the AMRAPALI INSTITUTE OF ARTS, Amrapali Magazine, Amrapali TalkArts, the dynamic Board of Applied Integrated Arts (AIA Board) for creative skills and vocational training and the organisation also organises events like the Chimera, Culture Colloquium and Amrapali International Arts Conclave. In this way, we are trying to structure new ways of popularising arts and culture whilst making it accessible to all. We're social in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube with hashtag #amrapali_org