For the love of dance

Odissi icon Jhelum Paranjape set up Smitalay in 1989 in memory of her childhood friend Smita Patil. Having dedicated 25 years to teaching dance to lesser privileged children, Paranjape strives to keeping her spirit and this dance form alive in Mumbai, through a crowdfunding initiative

Veteran Odissi dancer Jhelum Paranjape has nurtured talent across all stratas of society for 25 years in the city. On her 60th birthday, as the institute gears up to celebrate its silver jubilee, the dancer shares her journey in her dance studio, situated on a covered portion of the terrace of a school building that is in the care of Sane Guruji Arogya Trust, an educational charitable trust.

Jhelum Paranjape (right) and her son Bunkim (standing, in yellow) at the NCPA Mudra Dance Festival this yearJhelum Paranjape (right) and her son Bunkim (standing, in yellow) at the NCPA Mudra Dance Festival this year
Jhelum Paranjape (right) and her son Bunkim (standing, in yellow) at the NCPA Mudra Dance Festival this year

“It was formerly a Marathi-medium school that six years ago, started an English-medium one. Apart from educational activities, it has Odissi, Bharatanatyam, Tabla, music, judo, karate, gymnastics, a dental clinic, an Ayurvedic clinic, salon and more, for the underprivileged. Thus, everything is subsidised,” shares a beaming Paranjape.

The dance studio of Smitalay has the paint peeling off from the walls
The dance studio of Smitalay has the paint peeling off from the walls. Pic/Abhishek Rane

The veteran dancer apprises that the Trust has been a part of her growing up years as she saw her parents’ involvement in the charitable trust. The other key influence of her childhood was Smita Patil who later became a renowned actress, as is now public knowledge, discovered by none other than Shyam Benegal.

Smita Patil overlooks Kelucharan Mohapatra doing Paranjape’s make-up before her Manch Pravesh
Smita Patil overlooks Kelucharan Mohapatra doing Paranjape’s make-up before her Manch Pravesh

The Wonder Years
An unconventional Indian Classical danseuse, Paranjape started her training in Odissi at the age of 20, post her Masters in Statistics. She recalls, “There were three of us who had started learning under Guru Shankar Behera. Although Smita learnt only for six months before she was discovered for films, I, due to my Folk background, was termed exuberant, and the other friend soft due to her Manipuri lineage. But Smita was considered perfect.” Soon enough, Paranjape graduated to learning under the legendary dancer Kelucharan Mohapatra, who she admits “set her on to the love of Odissi”.

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra with his disciple  Jhelum Paranjape
Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra with his disciple Jhelum Paranjape

Blessing in disguise
Paranjape had her Manch Pravesh, the initiating ceremony of a dancer to stage in 1983 when Patil volunteered to not only act as a compere for the function but helped her in designing the brochure. Five years later, the dancer suffered a major setback in the form of a slip disc while touring the US. In a total of 30 performances, it was at the juncture when only five were left that Paranjape realised that she needed to go home and salvage her leg, let alone foreseeing a dance career in the future.

“Smita died in 1986. In ’88, after the slip disc, I was in bed. After that one month of rest and practically doing nothing, I thought of opening Smitalay, which means an abode for Smita.”

Talking shop
Spreading the love for the form had has its own underside of hardships. “When I started learning the Classical dance, it was very expensive to learn and I thought of passing it on to children who didn’t even know what it was about. The classes started at '5 a month then, which is now stretched to '50 a month. This area was filled with slums earlier. Even now, many kids whose mothers are domestic helps can’t afford the fees.”

Paranjape pauses to reminisce how she fixed rehearsals of the institute’s first public performance by considering everyone’s schedule to collect water for their daily needs. Not only this, the dancer has always maintained a large group of students that avail concessions. In fact, the maximum that anyone pays for the class is '2,000 per month. Zipping back to today, this has reaped an achievement of having three teachers from less-privileged backgrounds at the institute who cannot be paid a decent sum.

Not only that, the school has a tiled floor that has harmed the noted dancer’s knees. “I don’t want my students’ knees to go bad. We want to renovate this space and have a proper wooden floor. Plus, we need to waterproof it from the outside as we can’t afford water leaking on to it,” rues Paranjape.

More imminently, the school needs funds for a five-day festival to celebrate the school’s milestone. “The dates are fixed for October 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19, across four venues in Mumbai — Nehru Centre, Ravindra Natya Mandir, Savarkar Hall, and Bhavan’s Cultural Centre. We are having six different productions of ours revived,” shares Paranjape.

Bring in the crowds
Elaborating about her crowdfunding idea, she explains, “This year, students are welcome to approach corporates, but friends, family, and well-wishers can contact as many people so the word spreads. One corporate gives donation; they become aware of it and soon, it’s over. But tapping into a network of friends and their friends (who aren’t aware of Odissi or Smitalay) leads to more people coming to know about what’s happening and getting interested in learning too.”

Till: October 9
At: 5V/1, Sane Guruji Arogya Mandir, Santacruz (W).
Call: 26615463
Log on to:

Going with the flow

I have done Mathematics, social themes in dance, anti-dowry themes, birth of a girl child, and Bollywood songs. I have been heavily criticised by traditional people, but my guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, said ‘it’s good’. I am a Maharashtrian, so when I started Smitalay, the performance I put up with my students, had a Marathi song, and not a Classical one in Sanskrit/Oriya.

The theme was Radha, Krishna, which is very traditional. Initially, Guruji was upset and didn’t speak to me for four days but he saw how the audience related to it and said, “I was a little upset about the music but if this girl has been trying to popularise my Odissi in her state, why should I object.”

Jhelum Paranjape at her office
Jhelum Paranjape at her office. Pic/Abhishek Rane

About the initiative
Ranjana Dave, who started the crowdfunding campaign shares, “Since I’ve been a student of Jhelum Paranjape, at Smitalay, for about 10 years now, I’ve begun to appreciate the importance of its work. We’re now at a juncture where we have lots of new ideas but little money to implement these. I felt that crowdfunding is a good way to reach out to larger sections who might be interested in what Smitalay does and need a convenient way to participate in helping it grow.

The response has been good — we’re halfway through the campaign and have raised $(US) 3,300, which is a decent sum. Everyone has given what he or she can —past students, friends of students – they’ve all been generous and are helping us reach our goal. I am also thrilled that our campaign is still on the ‘trending’ list on Indiegogo’s Dance section!”

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