By Sunil Kothari
Deepak Maharaj has a head start as the son of Pandit Birju Maharaj – scion of the Kalka Bindadin's Lucknow gharana. At 46, he is young yet mature, and is blessed with a pleasant stage presence and a melodious voice. He knows the tricks of the trade and is a professional performer.
Dancing in the 26th annual dance and music festival organised by Sam Ved Society (5-6 March), Mumbai, in memory of Kathak maestro Pandit Durgalal, Deepak Maharaj was in an exulted mood. With youthful exuberance, he regaled the audience with select gems from the Lucknow gharana repertoire. Starting with a prayer in Brijbhasha, a composition of his father Birju Maharaj, he evoked images of Krishna, and soon unleashed a series of energetic nritta pieces after reciting the bols – which showcased his exceptional command over laya and tala. Thankfully, he did not restrict it to a sheer display of technique, but laced it with grace and occasional humour. He recited the bols before executing the nritta pieces, and had the advantage of having his elder brother Jaikishan Maharaj accompanying him on the pakhawaj, and maestro Akram Khan on the tabla. While his brilliant execution had the audience eating out of his hands, he also proved that he was a true artistic legatee of his father who has emerged out of his shadow.
Several young Kathak dancers are found lacking in abhinaya – emoting to a poem, a song, a thumri. Prefacing the abhinaya thumri of Bindadin Maharaj, Deepak admitted that he is no match to the nuances of the thumri. He sang it in his melodious voice impersonating both Krishna and the gopis. However, he did not dwell upon the sanchari bhavas, but only embellished them with typical thumka. It was evident that Deepak Maharaj has been concentrating on presenting nritta with amazing energy and speed. If he could exercise restraint and invest the form with the lyrical grace of Rajput and Mughal miniature paintings (which Birju Maharaj has mastered in his performances), Deepak could earn brownie points. Gat bhava and gat nikas are salient features of the Lucknow gharana which enhance the nazakat or delicacy and khubsoorati or beauty of the dance form. Deepak Maharaj would do well to strike that balance.
The finale – a jugalbani between Akram Khan's tabla and Deepak Maharaj's footwork. had the audience asking for more. On his part, Jaikishan Maharaj on the pakhawaj unleashed a pattern of paran like shooting an arrow. What a delight it was to relish Kathak in such a soiree!
Kathak exponent and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Uma Dogra has been organising this festival in memory of her guru since 1991. This was the first time that theatre found a place in the music and dance festival – a musical theatre presentation by Shekhar Sen in his inimitable role of Soordas. Ronu Majumdar’s hauntingly melodious flute recital with Benaras gharana tabla wizard Kashinath Mishra was another bonus.