The choreographic work that forms the basis of Nayakanveshan is Nayak Bheda, a solo dance performance created by Padmashri Guru Pratap Pawar almost 50 years ago. Here, Guruji Pawar explains the background to the piece, how it came about, and why the work was so groundbreaking.
In Indian dance we – that is all classical dancers – have a big ancient volume over 2000 years old called Natya Shastra. Natya Shastra was written by the great sage Bharata Muni and this work is still relevant now – as it includes everything that’s needed for theatre – including what the staging should be, what the artists need and where the audience is. At that time, dance and music and acting were not separate disciplines and each and everybody had to learn to dance, to sing, play an instrument and to speak dialogues.
Muni described there the many different characteristics of heroines – looking at the different characteristics of women. Many dancers use this text as inspiration and instruction especially in regard to the portrayal of the many characteristics of heroine: their background – how they look, how they walk, describing personality, complexion, how they move, and their relationships. There are three main types of women – my wife, his wife, and the courtesan.
The book contains descriptions of heroes too – male heroes with good characteristics: kind men, good human beings also villains: selfish, short-tempered and wicked. Good heroes and bad villains.
I studied Hindi and came across this text when I was a student. My style is Kathak dance and nobody up until then had made a dance depicting the heroes, the male characters. Many dancers had depicted the heroines, but no one had ever explored the male characters – the heroes. This was something I really wanted to do.
In 1970, early in my career as a dancer, I was working with highly successful Indian actress and dancer Asha Parekh in her show Anarkali. It was this experience of working on that show which moved the idea for Nayak Bedha along.
Working with such a star was a real coup. They had chosen me, without any audition or anything. I was in Delhi and they were in Bombay – I was relatively unknown and she was very famous – so I was pleasantly surprised to receive a telegram inviting me to join the performance.
Anarkali is a dance drama set in the Moghul Court, a big long love story between Prince Salim and the courtesan Anarkali, which has a tragic end.
I played the Prince. It’s a tragic story of courtesan Anarkali who was given the honour of performing in the court and ended up being buried alive in the palace walls. One day, I asked the producers why they had chosen me, a relatively unknown dancer, to play the part of the Prince. They described my dancing as ‘very manly’ much more so than other dancers who expressed more feminine qualities. I danced the part of Prince Salim many times and I developed a great relationship with the lighting team. On tour there were three lighting designers and fifty dancers in the company. I learned a lot from the lighting people. One day I saw green spot, then a red spot and I was inspired to use this lighting, to create my show exploring male heroes that distinguished the different characters using lighting.
‘My style is Kathak dance and nobody up until then had made a dance depicting the heroes, the male characters. Many dancers had depicted the heroines, but no one had ever explored the male characters – the heroes. This was something I really wanted to do.’
Guru Pratap Pawar
Pratap Pawar's Nayak Bheda
A rare chance to see Pratap Pawar perform his iconic Nayak Bheda, recorded in London in 1982
I wanted the characteristic of the male heroes and villain so I chose my three lead characters and storylines from Indian myths.
Lord Rama, one of the Hindu gods, is very kind and brave. I chose an amber spot for him. Another god – the pleasant happy-go-lucky Krishna in the full moonlight – would have a blue spot. Kansa I chose as my villain – he killed his sister’s children – a mean and vindictive person. He was definitely a red spot. I thought one character will be the storyteller. A white spot would light the Kathakar. Nayak Bheda would have proper lighting and would jump from white to amber to red to blue.
I would play all the characters, jumping between them wearing a white costume – and whichever light we chose for that character the costume would change colour under lights. Finally and to create a greater impact I approached my guru and told him that I wanted to make this show – ‘it is full of expression and action so can you make some music for me’ and he liked this idea very much. We recorded the music in 1971. That music is so beautiful and I still have it.
Nayak Bheda was first presented in a small theatre in the Janpath Hotel in Delhi in 1971 to an audience of press and professional dancers. It was groundbreaking in its content and form. No one had done it before and no one has done it since!
Afterwards, there were front-page stories in the press in Bombay, Delhi, Madras and Calcutta. The four big state newspapers praised it – the first time this had happened in the world of Kathak dance – as a novel experiment. Immediately after that it transferred to a big theatre in Delhi and since that to a touring audience all around the world.
Although Nayak Bheda is a short piece of 20 -22 minutes, it is so hard for one person to learn. There’s so much in it. There are a lot of sudden changes, with so many characters not only the main three. There’s a lot of storylines. There are nine characters and the Kathakar or Storyteller. The dancers have to learn ten different characters and many storylines – not only those of Krishna, Rama and Kansa. One person – in the spur of the moment – has to change from a polite father who is trying to save his child to a demon who is trying to kill the child to a mother who grieves for her children.
I am now teaching this dance to Kathak students from all over the world. I’m very happy to be teaching about 25 female and male professional dancers from five different countries UK, America, Canada, India and South Africa. It’s going very well and I am very grateful to Balbir for supporting my work. Also Sunil Sankera who has organised the course.
Bharata Muni was an ancient Indian theatrologist and musicologist who wrote an important theoretical work on ancient Indian music and drama. Natya Shastra is the oldest surviving Indian work on the performing arts and was written somewhere around 500 BC. It’s a kind of handbook for the creation and presentation of dance, drama and music, comprising 6000 couplets in Sanskrit and spread over thirty-six chapters.
Asha Parekh is an Indian film actress, director, and producer who appeared in many commercially successful films throughout her career. She was the highest paid actress of her time and was one of the most successful actresses of the 1960s and 1970s.