Dancing with Astad Deboo
Astad Deboo is as old as independent India but that doesn't stop him from continuing what he does best.
The man performed at the concluding night of the annual literature festival in the city where he interpreted Tagore’s poetry in his unique contemporary dance style. He was on stage for nearly an hour. CS caught up with the pioneer of the modern Indian dance to know the secret behind his energy:
The passionate artist
My passion for my work keeps me going. I enjoy it despite all the headaches that accompany it—trying to get sponsorship being one of them. I feel strongly for the work I do as well as the people associated with me. While I believe in collaborative effort, I’m comfortable with a one-man-show as well, despite my age.
Guiding the future
I mentored a group of deaf children from Chennai and Kolkata for 14 years. And then, there are these street children from Delhi who’ve been with me for the past five years. There’s one more group from Manipur—where the political situation is bad—but their indomitable spirit shows up in Pung Cholom, an indigenous dance form involving drums.
People assume I’m business-minded, but what they fail to understand—or should I say, deliberately overlook—is that I make sure that the kids in my group are paid well. They are never shortchanged. Dancing has become their livelihood, so I demand a decent pay for them. In other sabhas, artistes are paid peanuts and to make matters worse, they even accept the money.
Time to go desi
Classical dance in India is in a bizarre state. We have the desired audience but not enough platforms to showcase the talent. Unfortunately, even the television media hasn’t helped with a single serious programme on dance forms. One can’t deny the reality shows providing opportunities for dance forms like salsa, hip-hop, b-boying. But their roots are foreign pop culture at the end. Our rich Indian culture is getting neglected.
I’ve choreographed for four films so far: Abdullah, Meenaxi, Omkara and Raavan. I’m about to a film by Onir next year. It’s amusing that Bollywood dance has become popular not only amongst children but also their parents who push them towards it. Even the Delhi kids I mentor knew nothing about dance except Chaiyya Chaiyya before we met!
Not behind awards
Awards don’t translate into work. People don’t call you and offer you work on the basis of awards. That’s not how art functions in this country.