Preserving Chhau… and how!

By Our Reporter
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Dr Vikrant Kishore on his efforts to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage of a folk dance form of East India

Academic, filmmaker, photographer, author and journalist, Dr Vikrant Kishore is the master of many arts, but the Chhau dance form is where his heart truly lies. Currently based in Melbourne, Australia, Dr Kishore has for years been actively working for the safeguard and preservation of the cultural heritage of East India, especially Purulia Chhau dance through his India based NGO National Institute for Chhau and Folk Dance (NICFD).

“My association with Chhau dance has been primarily because of my parents Vijoy and Mira Kishore,” says Dr Kishore, who most recently directed I have directed Australia’s first reality based 12-part web-series—It’s My Desi Life for SBS Channel, Australia.

“My parents dedicated their life to working for the protection and promotion of the dance forms of Seraikela and Purulia style, though it was the Purulia style of Chhau that they were more attached to. They worked with various dance groups spread across the contiguous region of West Bengal and Jharkhand,” says Dr Kishore, adding that their efforts helped bring glory to Chhau and took the Chhau group to more than 25 countries across the world.

“Our group has performed at several international festivals such as the Festival of UFA and Udmurtia in Russia 2015; Festival of Association Nationale Cultures Et Tradition, 2013, 2014 and 2015,” he says, adding that they also did a prestigious multi-media exhibition on Chhau Dance titled “Dance of the Hindu Gods” at the Parliament of Victoria in Melbourne in 2015.

His parents, says Dr Kishore, also played an important role in putting across the case of Chhau dance to be considered as an “Intangible Cultural heritage” to the UNESCO with the help of International Council of Folklore Festivals (CIOFF) and Association Nationale Cultures and Tradition (ANCT, France). They succeeded and in 2010, the dance form was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. “It’s really something to be proud of for the people of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa, where different styles of Chhau are practised,” says Dr Kishore.

A student of Guru Lalit Mahato, in 1995, Dr Kishore led the Chhau dance group in the Festival of India in Thailand, which was supported by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, Government of India. And since then, he has been actively working for Chhau dance as a practitioner and now more of a researcher and a filmmaker.

“Working from Australia on Chhau dance is a difficult proposition, but nevertheless it is something that I follow with much passion. Thankfully, my brother Vivek based in Delhi, my sister Aparna and brother in law Arvind Kumar based in Ranchi are the ones who connect with the Chhau performers on a regular basis and have been working to streamline things in the best possible manner,” says Dr Kishore.

He also makes it a point to travel once a year to the Chhau villages in West Bengal and Jharakhand and work with them. He also recently completed a documentary titled Dancing to the Tunes of Bollywood, which has been screened in various film festivals. The documentary analyses the role of the Indian folk dance forms in Indian cinema, in particular, Hindi/Bollywood cinema.

“Folk and classical dance forms of India have immensely influenced Bollywood song and dance sequences. Bollywood choreographers have over the years utilised Indian folk, classical and traditional Indian dance forms to create, innovate and experiment different style of song and dance sequences. Most of the folk dance forms are glamorised and exoticised while they are represented on screen,” explains Dr Kishore, who has also authored the book From Real to Reel: Folk Dances of India in Bollywood Cinema, published by UNESCO-Apnieve, and have co-edited two books Bollywood and its Other(s) (published by Palgrave Macmillan) and Salaam Bollywood (published by Routledge, UK). “The documentary brings to the fore discussions regarding how Bollywood song-dance sequences are having considerable influence on the traditional folk dance forms of India, both in terms of form and content,” he adds.

“I hope that people especially in Jharkhand a West Bengal understand the importance of their cultural heritage and give the respect due to these performers and support these dying culture as much as possible and of course, help survive our folk forms from getting transmogrified by the onslaught of Bollywood cinema,” he says.

In Australia, Dr Kishore plans to take the multi-media exhibition on Chhau to other cities and international destinations. He says he is also working on an international dance festival with support from France based Association National Cultures that organises one of the prestigious folklore festivals in the world—The Festival of the World Cultures in Gannat. “Hopefully, we will be able to collaboratively work on to showcase this festival in Melbourne soon,” he says.

 

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