An open letter to Madhuri Dixit: 'Please carry forward Pandit Birju Maharaj's cultural legacy'

Madhuri Dixit, only you, have the power pull and magnetism to convince youngsters to look towards the classical arts for creative sustenance.

Subhash K Jha January 20, 2022 11:06:30 IST
An open letter to Madhuri Dixit: 'Please carry forward Pandit Birju Maharaj's cultural legacy'

Madhuri,

We are living through a legacy of lingering lacunas. After Covid, what? After Virat Kohli, who?

After Birju Maharaj, who and what? It’s the last question that I want to address to you. Yes you, Madhuri. Of all the lovely people who have the grace to carry Panditji’s legacy forward, it is you who can actually pull it off.

Why? You may well ask. The answer is simple, you, and only you, have the power pull and magnetism to convince youngsters to look towards the classical arts for creative sustenance.

This is why I was deeply disappointed when you chose to teach ‘Bollywood’ dancing online instead of something purer, more durable.

The great legendary Vyjanthimala before you is a prime example of how to keep Bollywood out of the classical arts: not that I have anything against Bollywood dance forms. But to see little children on dance-reality shows thrusting and heaving like 30-year old screen queens is heartbreaking, embarrassing.

We are looking at a future completely stripped of cultural references. We may have a future where India’s cultural dance heritage is defined by 'Chikni chameli' rather than 'Mohe panghat pe nandlaal chhed gayo re'. One day not too far ahead in the future some child will turn around ask her mother, ‘What the hell was she doing at the panghat all alone anyway?’

An open letter to Madhuri Dixit Please carry forward Pandit Birju Maharajs cultural legacy

Sobering thought isn’t it? After Panditji passed away this week I spoke to Manoj Bajpai who was a huge ardent fan of Panditji. Manoj saw a yawning lacuna in Kathak after Birju Maharajji. He felt there may be other accomplished Kathak dancers. But none to match steps with Panditji. Dur-dur tak….

He agreed with me that you, Madhuri, are the only pan-India entity that can carry the legacy forward by convincing youngsters that the road to salvation for Indian dance forms is not Bollywood.

I remember many many years ago in the year 1970 when Vyjanthimala visited Trinidad (West Indies) she walked off the stage in the middle of her Bharatnatyam performance when the audience demanded 'Buddha mil gaya' from Sangam. 5 years later Hema Malini visited Trinidad and history itself. Hemaji stopped her classical Bharatnatyam performance when the audience wanted her to dance to 'Duniya ka mela mele mein ladki'.

When I reminded her of the incident Vyjanthimalaji laughed throatily. “I don’t remember this particular incident. But yes, I was very very particular about not mixing Bollywood with my classical dancing. At my dancing schools, children are taught classical dance forms. If we are to keep the classical heritage alive we need to expose our children to the classical art forms so that they know classical is not boring.”

This is where you come in, Madhuri. You radiate a certain authority while charming thousands with your smile. If you say 'Kahe chhede mohe' in Devdas was just as much fun as 'Ek do teen' in Tezaab, the Gen-X will believe you.

Do you remember when Pandit Birju Maharaj asked you to show him your 'Ek do teen' steps? It’s time for you to pay back the compliment. You owe it to Panditji and to the Indian classical dance form.

If not you, then who?

With due regards,

Subhash K Jha

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at SubhashK_Jha.

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