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Pandit Deepak Maharaj: Birju Maharaj ji's place in my life is more of a guru than a father

Ahead of his Mumbai performance, Pandit Deepak Maharaj chats about choosing dance over sport, GenNext’s struggle with focus and his relationship with his famous father, Pandit Birju Maharaj

Q. Did you always want to be a dancer?
A. Mentally, my training started when I was a six-year-old. The atmosphere at home and outside was artistic. There was always someone singing, playing the tabla while my father was choreographing. I started performing at the age of nine, and then at college events and cultural functions. I wasn’t serious about it then. I was more inclined towards sports. But like they say, you can’t avoid the pull of khaandani khoon (ancestral lineage). Once, when I was 21, I was playing cricket with my friends and injured myself. No one paid much heed to it. They just asked me to go home and put some medicine on the wound, while they continued to play. The next day I had to perform. After the performance, unlike the day before, many people came up to me and complimented me for my dance. That adulation made me realise that all of us love to be appreciated and that acted as a driving force for me to take up dancing professionally.

Pandit Birju Maharaj. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Pandit Birju Maharaj. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Q. What is the most important lesson you learnt from your father?
A. When you are with Maharaj ji, you are learning all the time. His place in my life is more of a guru than a father. When I perform with him, it is a sheer honour for me to stand next to him on stage. His focus, concentration and attention to detail amazes me. His work has always had a lot of depth. I have tried to imbibe his acute sense of laya (rhythm). I have also been an admirer of his simplicity.

Also read: Pt. Birju Maharaj receives Lifetime Achievement award

Deepak Maharaj Dancer
Pandit Deepak Maharaj will perform to a Thumri conceived by his grandfather at the 26th Pt Durgalal Festival on March 6. Shekhar Sen will perform a mono act, Soordas on March 5. Flautist Pandit Ronu Majumdar will perform on March 6.

Q. How does he respond to your performances?
A. Gurus are never easy to please. He always finds scope for improvement and gives me tips after every performance. He has told me that it gives him great joy to see me dance and has appreciated my work, but he seeks perfection. I am more of a performer than choreographer. I belong to the eighth generation of the Lucknow gharana. I want my work to represent this legacy. The ninth generation is also getting prepared.

Q. Have audiences and students changed since you started?
A. Yes, sometimes Maharaj Ji and I talk about how the old days were simpler. Today, life is complicated and we are very time strapped. Maharaj Ji tells us how in his time people watched performances all night. Today, we have very short slots to perform at events. It’s not that today’s generation is not interested in classical forms; it’s just that they lack patience. I teach young students at Maharaj’s Kala Ashram in Delhi. They are talented but the other activities in their lives have increased and so, they find it difficult to focus on one thing. I always tell them that there is nothing like instant success. The positive thing is that there is a lot of experimentation in dance today. We have performed fusion too but our base and roots are classical. We performed Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in a fusion of Kathak and Ballet. The tarana, bol and hand movements were inspired by Kathak.

Q. Would you encourage your students to take up classical dance as a career?
A. There is a lot of scope to take up dance professionally today. We have also performed for audiences who don’t understand the classical form at all but have appreciated what they saw since we performed with integrity. There is always an audience for art if you are good at what you do.

On: March 5 and 6, 6.30 pm
At: Sardar Patel Sabagriha, Bhavan’s College, Andheri (W).

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