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I want to be known as an art iste

I want to be known as an art  iste
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Says, Kathak dancer Sharmistha Mukherjee who prefers to be known for her dance rather than her father Pranab Mukherjee. She talks about her passion...

Says, Kathak dancer Sharmistha Mukherjee who prefers to be known for her dance rather than her father Pranab Mukherjee. She talks about her passion and her views on art in a candid interview

Samuel Tatikonda

I would rather be known as a Kathak artiste, than as the President’s daughter,” says Sharmistha, a famous dancer and the 47-year-old daughter of the Pranab Mukherjee. “Nothing has changed for me being the President’s daughter. Everything is the same. Yes, I feel happy that my father is the President of India. I feel excited about it like any other daughter would feel but I wouldn’t like to be identified because of my father.”

She went nostalgic at the mention of Pandit Durgalalji. “He was my first guru. When I was just 12 years old, I watched his performance and decided to learn under him. My other teachers were Uma Sharma and Rajendra Gangani. They shaped me, sculpted me, tuned me into what I am today. I owe them everything for my art,” she says.

Sharmistha had always liked to dance and after completing her Post Graduation, decided to take dance as a career. Over the years she has grown to experiment with her dance to suit the contemporary context. “I like to experiment with new themes and new styles of music but of course, within the tradition and limits of Kathak. I feel there is lot of scope for improvisation as long as one does not deviate from the tradition. It must be more relevant to contemporary aesthetics. That is what I project through my work.”

Although she likes to remain true to the classical style, she isn’t averse to innovations like Kathak blended with classical Arabic poetry or Western classical music like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, especially when performing abroad. “Bach was a very versatile Western classical music composer and Brandenburg Concertos is one of his most famous compositions. I like Western Classical music. And I did some compositions on Bach and Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, who mainly composed instrumental concertos on violin.”

Sharmistha, a woman of sheer grit, was emphatic as she reacted when asked what she would do if a political career was forced on her. “Nobody can force anything on anybody. Especially on a person like me and someone like my parents wouldn’t force anything on me. Does the new status tag of being the President's daughter hinder Sharmistha or comes in handy? “I don't allow that tag to either hinder me or do I take advantage of it.”

She feels that the younger generation does not want to take art as a profession because of the present condition of the other artistes. “We should create more platforms for the artistes. Create more monetary benefits, so that the younger generation can take art as a profession. But presently, one may not take up this as a profession unless he or she badly loves this field.”

Lack of sponsors is another problem for an artiste. “Absolute lack of sponsors, specifically for classical dancers is the problem we face today. If you ask any organiser or any dancer, the problem they are facing is dearth of funds to keep the art going. Lack of funds is the main issue dogging us today but not the lack of talent. One must understand that classical dance is a profession and not philanthropy. A classical dancer or a musician puts in a lot of hard work. We put in as much hard work as anyone else,” she adds.

“People should not have a feeling that they are doing a favour by giving a platform to a performer. There should also be some monetary remuneration. Even they should survive. If an art is to survive, an artiste too has to survive.” As a word of advice and caution for the younger generation, she says, “Whatever career you choose, you have to be in love with your work. If your parents say you must be an engineer and you don’t want to be an engineer...but just to please them or to earn extra money or for the social status, one need not make a wrong choice. You may have to suffer for the rest of your life.”

“The first thing and the best thing is to follow your heart and your passion. But for that, you will have to really work hard. If you are passionately involved with your job, you would love working. Then work would be a pleasure and not a burden,” she signs off.

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