If you loved watching Vidya Balan’s latkas and jhatkas to the song Mala Jau de from Ferrari Ki Sawari, you might want to catch a glimpse of the real deal, at a Lavani performance, where seasoned dancers will blow your mind away with their graceful yet seductive moves.
Spot the difference
Most of us will be unable to tell the difference between a traditional Lavani performance and a new-age version, but a discussion with a few veteran dancers reveal that the difference is clearly visible. What’s sad is that these days, the audience prefers to watch the newer style. Though Lavani is still extremely popular in Maharashtra, the love and appreciation for the traditional style of the dance seems to be on the decline. To highlight this and to also bring forth the beauty in the traditional folk form, an event titled Mee Kaat Taakali has been organised on June 16 in Mumbai. The event will witness five dancers of the old-style of Lavani and five dancers, who will showcase the new style put forth their best moves. The audience will be able to notice the beauty in the two.
“Mee Kaat Taakali means I have shed my skin. I have a new personality now. I have shed my inhibitions and my old beliefs,” says Bhushan Korgaonkar while explaining the title of the event. He has been conducting research on this dance form and its dancers, and has also made a film with Savitri Medhatul titled Natale Tumchya Saathi on the social aspects of Lavani. With Medhatul’s help, he has now put together this event to highlight the difference between the old and new styles.
According to him, Lavani has always been around and it continues to become more and more popular among the people. “But, it’s being narrowed down to just being an item number. I am not denying that it can be looked at as an item number, but it has a lot more potential. It is also a beautiful art form — I wanted to highlight this,” he reveals.
“Many people including Maharashtrians are not even aware about the Sangeet Bari theatres and the culture of the traditional Lavani dancers. I was hoping people will get to know about this as well through my film and such events,” he adds. Sangeet Bari is a dance tradition were many Lavani dancers would stay at the Sangeet Bari theatres and perform, everyday. They would reside in the theatre premises till their contract would expire and different groups called Sangeet parties would perform there.
“The last such Sangeet Bari theatre in Mumbai closed down in 1992. Lavani dancers followed the custom that once the dancer ties a ghunghroo to her feet, she will not get married,” adds Bhushan. Shakuntala Nagarkar is one such dancer who has lived in these theatres and adhered to the customs and traditions of this dance form. She will be coming down from her hometown Sanaswadi, a village in Pune to perform here. “These days, Lavani performances are like in the movies,” says Nagarkar, who has also won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Lavani in 2008. She has been performing for over 40 years; when you ask her to reveal her age, she replies that it might be above 50.
“In the traditional Lavani performance, there was more emphasis on expressions and conveying a meaning to the audience. Now, the words are not given importance. It’s more about fast moves,” says Nagarkar, who is afraid that the traditional style will disappear. “We did not do it just for the money. The expressions and adakari (acting) was very important,” she adds. She hails from a Tamasha family where her mother and sister were Lavani dancers as well. Though she tries to pass on the knowledge of the traditional style, she adds that many girls want to learn the fast style, which is more appealing to the audience. “The interest to understand the nuances of the dance is decreasing,” she adds.
It’s not just the words and the expressions, but also the costumes and music that have witnessed a change. “In the old style, the dancers would sing as they dance. The traditional Lavani dancers will be demonstrating this element,” says Anil Hankare, who has been dressing up as a woman and giving Lavani performances for the last sixteen years. He will be performing the new style of Lavani at the event. “Even if it is a four-hour performance, they do it in a single saree, but we change at least three to four times. We want to give variety to the audience,” elaborates Hankare.
“The traditional style can get a bit slow. There are songs on sadness, on love, where a lot more importance is given to words. In the newer style, the importance is given more to moves. People, these days, want excitement and fast-paced dance. We want to ensure that the audience is excited and wants to dance along.”
Then and now
“The amazing part of this event is that we will get to watch a veteran like Shakutai (Shakuntala Nagarkar) perform. The audience hardly gets to see someone like her… even we don’t get to see her much,” comments Akanksha Kadam (27), the youngest lavani dancer to perform at the event. “They had more patience compared to us. They would sing the same line 10 times and do different expressions on them,” shares Kadam. “They also had more of a classical base as most of them were trained in Kathak. Hence, their footwork was fantastic. They also wore more ghungroos,” she reminisces.
But both the styles have a definite element of sensuality and many songs have double meanings too. “The element of sensuality is inherent to Lavani. But there is also an aesthetic beauty, which I want to highlight. This event is my humble attempt to create awareness about the traditional form and highlight its beauty,” Bhushan concludes. The proceeds of the event will go to NGO Mahila Vikas Kendra that supports women’s empowerment.