Kathak: Anchor Shilpa Chakraborty remembers the end of iconic Kathak artist Pt Birju Maharaj; says: “Glad to have participated in a workshop with God himself”

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Padma Vibhushan Award winner Pt Birju Maharaj breathed his last today (16 January) at the age of 83. He died at Saket Hospital in New Delhi after suffering a heart attack. The entire nation mourns the passing of the iconic Kathak artist. Padma Laureate Vibhushan Brij Mohan Nath Mishra was born on February 4, 1937. The Kathak maestro, who was an equally talented singer and avid painter, has followers all over the world and Shilpa was one of his silent admirers in a corner of the country. .

Speaking to ETimes TV, popular TV host Shilpa Chakraborty, who is also an avid Kathak dancer, remembered Pt Birju Maharaj, his influence on Kathak, his brief camaraderie with him, and more again.

She said: “I have been learning Kathak since I was 7 years old. He was like the God of Kathak to us. We never learned directly from him but from his disciples who settled here in South India .”

Sharing his first and last encounter with the legendary artist, Shilpa said, “I met Birju Maharaj Ji at his last studio in Hyderabad before Covid a few years ago. It was the only time he came to Hyderabad. I have always admired him from afar and learned his Lucknow gharana from one of his disciples here at Telugu University. I feel blessed to have participated in a workshop with the God himself.

Sharing his view on his influence in popular cinema, Shilpa said, “I don’t think he did cinema to survive. His work in Hindi cinema did indeed help popularize kathak in the country. I personally think his grace had a cinematic feel and expression and it suited the medium. And Bollywood embraced it too.”

Kathak is more than just a dance form for Shilpa. “I have been learning Kathak since I was 7 years old. I feel so relaxed, calm and good when I dance. It’s like my meditation. I often share my Kathak videos on Instagram but unfortunately my Telugu followers on Instagram love to see me do an Oo Antava or popular dance number than Kathak or any other classical dance form.”

Shilpa felt that any art form needs audience and encouragement to thrive. “Birju Maharaj Ji commands immense respect and also follows because there was an audience around the world who appreciated and respected the art form and encouraged the artists. I am talking about the change in the taste and state of mind of the public with the changing times. That is why , I am particular that my daughter learns a form of classical dance that she likes and that my son learns the tabla or any other musical instrument. They could become n anything in the future, but the art will stay with me.

Shilpa strongly believes that a change in parental mindset, a sustainable establishment that encourages art forms in all strata of society and also encouragement in popular media also help Kathak survive. “Parents should be open and willing enough to encourage their children to learn music or any other art form, let alone Kathak. Also, if classical dances can be back in TV programs, it can be really encouraging. In this regard, I would like to thank the TV channel for inviting me to play Kathak in their recent special Sankranthi. It’s a very heartwarming gesture. I so wish it would continue.

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