Maya K Nigam, Anjana Welfare Society and associate sponsors presented Surtaal on the 3rd September 2017 at the Azad Bhawan, ICCR, New Delhi. A great effort as a first edition of the Festival, however, I am sure it was a great learning experience for the organisers.

The panel of artists was remarkable with Falguni Kumar presenting Bharatnatyam, Renu Gupta presenting Vocals, Avinash Kumar presenting Vocals, Agam Agarwal presenting Flute, Deepak Gangani and Richa Joshi presenting Kathak and Abhishek Khichi and Anjana Kumari presenting Kathak.

Before I take you through the performance critically, I would like to share with you something that I had learnt during my hotel management days back in 2003. ‘Mise en place’, a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” It refers to the set up required before cooking, and is often used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients that a cook will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift. My point in bringing ‘mise en place’ here is that the Festival lacked a proper pre preparation | set up. I am sure my observation and remarks would be taken in the right spirit to improve the forthcoming versions of the festival.

The festival kicked off superbly by Guru Shri Justin McCarthy’s student Falguni Kumar presenting a beautiful Bharatnatyam repertoire. The problem started when the vocalists were to perform. All of a sudden there was chaos on stage and I realised that there had been no tech setup | sound check prior to the show, which meant it would take 15-30 mins to set up the sound. It looked unprofessional as the tech guy on stage kept shouting to the light and sound pit at the back of the auditorium fixing mikes and then the musicians setting up the sound. It should always be a practice to call the musicians a couple of hours before the show to set up the sound so that it is just a couple of minute’s affair before the performance. Similar was the case when Avinash Kumar came to perform. I felt both the performances were overshadowed due to the long waiting time in setting up and most people lost their interest. Agam Agarwal brought back the interest with an incredible rendition of the A R Rahman’s Roza theme on flute to start with but his performance was very short lived with just two pieces presented.

Out of the blue came an awards distribution section which I think was irrelevant at that time and even the performers were unaware of. This could have been done at the very beginning or at the end of the festival. It felt like a corporate or a commercial show quite contrary to being a performing arts festival where the main aim was to felicitate and distribute awards and the performances were fillers.

Another 30 minutes went by before the remaining performances started. By this time the stage was too dirty to even stand on barefoot. It would have been great if a volunteer could have got it mopped once. Secondly, the backdrop was still the white cyclorama (a photographer’s nightmare), which should have been changed to a black backdrop or at least the light technician could have put some colors on it. Ashwini Chopra Ji tried a lot to get it fixed but alas he was unable to.

There were a couple of unattended children who were running up to the stage in turn further delaying the performance.

The best part of the whole festival apart from Falguni Kumar were the two power packed Kathak performances by Deepak Gangani and Richa Joshi and Abhishek Khichi and Anjana Kumari. Both the duos had great synchronization and were quite graceful on stage. A special mention and appreciation to Navneet Pandey from Vastravinyas for both the costumes.

Lastly, a big mistake that I am sure has been committed unknowingly was that Aditi Mangaldas Ji had come in to watch the Kathak performances. The Kathak legend’s presence was an honor for the festival and she should have been called on stage with other dignitaries. Aditi Ji coming on the stage and speaking about the performances would have indeed been a feather to the festival.

I know I sound a bit harsh but would like to sum up my blog with the following famous Hindi phrase:

Nindak neda rakhiye, tan man nirmal hoye!

Here’s to a better ‘mise en place’ during the next edition of SURTAAL!

Please N.B. – I am not an artist or a technical person to comment on or judge any aspect of the performance. I do understand what all pain one takes and the courage one puts up to present such a performance and highly appreciate and respect it. Whatever I write is purely what I feel sitting in the audience.

Photographs @ Arijeet Mukherjee
Copyright @ Artist Association of India

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