Priti Patel’s enchanting tribute to MK Binodini
Priti Patel, who needs no introduction in the arena of classical dance is in Imphal to perform the ‘Black Swan: The Chosen One’ on the 3rd MK Binodini Devi Memorial Lecture. She took out time from her rehearsal schedule to chat with RK Geetanjali.
RK Geetanjali: Iche Priti, since when & how did you get inspired to learn Manipuri dance whereas there are lots of dance forms?
Priti Patel: I should say, in my life, destiny has made a very big role. My grandfather was very forward looking thinking person and he wanted that all the ladies in our house should get involve in art and culture. So, he invited Guru Bipin Singh from Bombay to direct and choreograph dance dramas for all of us. My aunt would play male character and enact Radha-Krishna play. My mother would also play different roles. I was very young then. Guru Bipin suggested mother that I should specialise in a particular dance form. So, mother said Guru Bipin himself should teach me during his stay. Guru Bipin started training me from the age of 12. He used to come home to teach. I came to Imphal for the first time in 1977. I stayed for 3 months at Moirangkhom. Guruji wanted me to learn not just jagoi but to play pung as well as eshei, a style of Manipuri singing to get the whole idea it. Because of that learning, today when I am choreographing, it is easy for me because I learned the eshei from Ras Leela and also have learnt how to play simple tala like Challi and Raga Achouba etc. This was how it got started.
RK G: From how many Gurus you have learned Manipuri Dance?
PP: I started off with Guru Bipin. Then I had intense training under Oja Thingbaijam Babu Singh. The training was important because that was the time when I started giving performances. Guru Bipin followed Oja Ibopishak and Oja Amudon’s style, which is known as Govindajee Temple School and Oja Babu followed Oja Amubi’s style. I learned and follow both the styles. You can see the both the styles in my choreography. I also wanted to know about the pre-Vaisnavite forms. So I took training from Kumar Maibi and Pabung Khelchandra Singh. My Thang-Ta training was from both Oja Gourakishore Sharma and Pabung Khelchandra Singh. The Gurus were very important to me. At the same time, I learned more about aesthetics, costume and design from MK Binodini Devi. Imashi, you know how she dressed. She had such good taste. She taught me a lot.
RK G: Can you tell more about what Imashi had taught?
PP: Oh yes! She taught me many things. My institution Anjika was named by her. The symbol of Anjika was given by Pabung Khelchandra. In fact, they were the founders of the institution. I remember, when we first started with the Maharaas in Kolkata, the bamboo for the designs came from Manipur. We designed the mandap, the canopies, the sattra – everything was so beautifully made. Imashi was the one who was behind all these. She created what she remembered from the time she saw it in the palace. I did production for the children, she wrote the script ‘Pebet’. There was one production called ‘Khuman: The Black Sun’ It was a poem written by Dilip Mayengbam. Imashi did the translation. There were lots of instances, I mean, in all of my productions, she had a hand. She was the vital part.
RK G: What special things did you learned from Imashi, besides the aesthetics?
PP: Oh! To be humble… that was one thing she told me. She said “Priti, the day you become proud there is no place for you here. In fact, all my Gurus believed very strongly in humility. They all would say that there is someone watching, the moment you become proud, your decline is for sure. To be humble, to be honest and to do good for everyone, Imashi taught me. Imashi helped so many artists, so many people, she helped many of us. She taught me that one should not be proud of one’s success, and, not to be depressed if you fail. “Say no, I will do better next time”, she said.
RK G: How do you feel about tomorrow’s performance?
PP: Well, I am very honoured that Somi asked me to perform. It has been my wish to perform someday. Anjika completes 20 years this year. This will be our dedication to her. But most important thing is that, you see, I feel she is watching. I am nervous.
RK G: Tell us something about the ‘Black Swan’ choreography?
PP: Blak Swan is my own script. Of course, if Imashi was here, she would have written it. I had done some documentation and I went to Oja Chaobhal who is an acclaimed Guru of Karatal. And he does beautiful Gatis. I asked him, “Oja, have you seen a black swan?” He said, “I haven’t seen a black swan.” I was thinking about the black swan and it is said that there are very few black swans in this world. I should say Imashi was like a black swan. She was very strong, she was very different and she was very bold that in that sense. She brought in a lot of change. She speaks out in any issue. For me, Imashi was the ideal person. So the idea behind the choreography of ‘Black Swan’ is to bring about a change for a better world.
RK G: When was this choreography completed?
PP: This was actually run in 2012. It is also a very expensive production. But this time for Imashi, I said I will do anything.
RK G: Is there any unique that you use in this particular production?
PP: You will see a lot of big drums. These drums were made with the help of Pabung Khelchandra, inspired by the Langde, Tanyei Pung which you find it in the Govindajee temple also. So, we created this. We have also used music from the South Eastern, the flute and the tune. I haven’t used any Hindustani music. Movements are of course from the Thang-Ta and Rass Leela traditions. There is one part where I have used the soft Tai Chi movements.
RK G: Bandh and blockade are very common in Manipur. How do you feel when face such incidents here? Today (February 5) itself is also a bandh.
PP: Once when I came here, there was curfew. So at the airport there was nothing. No cars or taxis. So, I got up in a military truck. They drove me to Yaiskul and dropped me at Imashi’s house. Then once there was bandh, I had come only for 1 week. I somehow managed to go to Oja’s house at Uripok and he was so angry. He scolded what if something had happen to me.
RK G: You have been associating with Manipuries for so long. How do you find them, say- the people and the culture?
PP: All the artists, students who are staying with me at Kolkata are like my family. When my father passed away on January 3 this year, these boys have stood by me like my own brothers. It’s a different relationship. I don’t find their warmth anywhere. So much of loyalty – so much of good heart. This is something which I will not forget; so much of love I have got from them. I came today and they have managed everything. They said, “Eche, you don’t worry”. I was a little disturbed as it has been just one month that father passed away.
RK G: Iche, thank you very much for sparing your valuable time. Wish you all the best.
(RK Geetanjali is a doctoral candidate on Manipuri Jagoi Raas at Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan)
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