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Home Personality Interviews

Personality Interviews

Upasana Upadhyaya

Upasana Upadhyaya

Interview with a child dansuese

Om!

The classical odyssey begins with this sacred invocation. Upon calling the various gods, the Guruvarya is approached for obeisance and finally, blessing is sought from the benevolent audience.

There comes that first Mudra, clearly outlined against the backdrop, frozen into a sculpted silhouette. The feet start responding to the weaving melody as ankles clad in tiny bells shower their reverberation. Soon it is a swirling display of movement and grace, the expressions blazing from passionate to sympathetic, sucking into its sentiment the entire atmosphere. Only after the final bow do you realize that you had been totally mesmerised by the beauty of the moment. That you had been a part of pure creation.

An accomplished dansseuse always delivers through her performance a measure of this sublime art. It is a tribute to her talent moulded by long training. Conventionally, something that demands a whole lifetime of dedication. But then, art is known to defy convention and produce miracles.

Upasana Upadhyay is one such prodigy, a gift of art presented to our times a little early. All of nine years, this mischievous tiny bundle transforms into an amazing dansseuse the instant she steps onto stage. Her exhaustive repertoire of Bharatanatyam stuns one and all on limbs so young. Today, she is an exponent with over 200 performances and as many accolades wrapped under her belt. She has been conferred upon as the National Child Award by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India. It is but a reflection of her phenomenal affinity to dance without which it is difficult to conceive one so young adept at something as classical a dance form as Bharathanatyam.

In our continuing series, Torchbearers of Art, we present an interview with this nine year old wonder, a danseusse par excellence -- Upasana!

Some excerpts...

Q. Tell me your favourite place in the world.

Answer : (Rolling her impossibly large eyes towards one corner she tries to analyze the question) "Uncle, my favorite place is Balanandam."

Remember the Sunday afternoon radio programme on Chitraseema, the one about kids? It is this much renowned child cultural centre near Narayanaguda where Upasana first sought her inspiration to learn Classical dance after seeing a young boy dance on Skates.

Q. Why?

Answer : Balanandam is a nice place to play and dance. You know Karthik, Uncle? (The young boy on skates) I wanted to dance like him.

Q. Upu, do you remember anything about Bhutan? (She spent her infant years there.)

Answer : Very little, but I can recollect the mountains and the snow and Asparagus!

Q. Asparagus? (perplexed!)

Answer : Ha ha! Lot of asparagus in Bhutan, Uncle. We used to even have its soup!

Q. Tell us Upu, you were only 5 years old when you joined .......(Dance School). Tell us about your first experience.

Answer : You know Uncle, what Masterji first told when he saw me? He said, "I’m not running a nursery!"

Q. Then what happened? (By now I was incredibly engrossed!)

Answer : I pulled my mother’s hand and told her that I wanted to recite Igiri Nandini, so that he would know that I’m very much interested in Classical dance.

Q. Then?...

Answer : I recited all the twenty stanzas of the Durga Stotram and he was convinced!

Q. Wow! Can you recite them even now?

Answer : Of Course! (And she launched sincerely into the elaborate sanskrit verse where I sensed an uncanny spiritual concentration that this child possessed that becomes again very much apparent whenever she dances, as if she enters into a trance.)

Q. Upasana, how would you describe your Guruji? (Renowned Guru Rammoorthy runs the dance school Sri Rama Nataka Niketan.... in Secunderabad)

Answer : (Very tongue tied, she struggles through her awesome reverence, and says she cannot put it in words.)

Q. Will you write it down then and give?

Answer : Yes, Uncle! (Later she did go far lengths to express what she feels for her Guru.) “Whatever I’m today, it is because of him. I have a lot of respect and love for him. (The child displays amazing candour, "I respect him so much that I can’t express my feelings, Uncle." I was left nodding in wonder.)

Q. You have another Guru also, you were telling...?

Answer : Manju teacher! She is Masterji’s daughter. I love her. She is like mother to all of us. And she makes the best Sambar in the world. I love Tamil food, Uncle! (You can’t help falling into fits of laughter as again and again you are reminded that she is but a child. But when she dances...)

Q. Tell us, how does it feel when you dance?

Answer : (Unhesitatingly...) I get completely involved. I love to become Krishna, Rama, Ganapathi, Shiva... You know Uncle, masterji tells us atleast four or five stories about each character.

Q. So that you can easily become that character when you dance?

Answer : Yes, Uncle!

Q. What is your favourite dance item?

Answer : Ummm, Ananda Nartana Ganapathi!

Q. Because you like Ganapathi and that he is naughty?

Answer : No! Because for every beginning of a dance one must remember Ganapathi, only then can the rest be successful. I try to please him, uncle! (Then she performed the invocation dance. Most remarkable aspects of her dance are, I feel, her instantaneous transition from a saucer eyed kid into a brilliant dancer, and two, her boundless energy. She never tires!

Q. Tell us about your trip to Mongolia.

Answer : We were 15 of us who got selected for the international cultural exchange and I was the youngest. And the only South Indian. Since they were a little unaware of our traditions, for the first time, I applied make-up myself, of course with a little help from ...Bhaiyya and ....Didi. The whole trip was great and we had lots of fun... (Upasana jotted down all her memoirs in a small diary while in Mongolia and I had the pleasure and honour to go through her little book. It made up some fascinating reading. She describes, “ It was a great day and a disappointing day” -- the caption, “ The Prime Minister of Bhutan was delayed and we had to begin our programme and just when I finished a nice piece, we received the news that he would not be coming here after all. It seems he had just resigned from his job! I was so disappointed!” Another one, "Here the milk was very different. You felt like not walking or running but jump up and down, so much of energy. Then we were told we are all drinking horse’s milk!"
Uncle, I want you to underline (this she insisted thrice!) Ajit Singh uncle’s name. My special thanks to Ajay Singh Uncle for having selected me for Mongolia. (Mr. Ajay Singh is the Chairman, National Balbhavan, who was impressed to no end upon seeing Upasana perform Ananda Nartana Ganapati, her favourite dance item at Balanandam that he recommended her for the international cultural exchange, National Children’s Camp, Bhutan, 1999.)

Q. Upu, what do you want to become in the future?

Answer : A Cardiologist.

Q. But what about your dance?

Answer : (She gives a very patient smile) Abha! I’ll be a doctor in the morning and dancer in the evening. (And then she very shyly reveals) I’ll sell tickets of my performances and buy medicines for the poor patients.

Q. How much each ticket Upu?

Answer : (She raises all five fingers) Five rupees -- one ticket!

 

Shiva Prasad

Shiva Prasad

Exclusive interview with the whistle wizard

Whistle music is a rare and specialized art in the melodious world of music and Mr. Siva Prasad has mastered it to perfection, finding himself a prestigious place in the galaxy of enchanting musicians.

A gifted prodigy of Carnatic and Hindustani music on Whistle, Siva Prasad hails from a family of scholars in arts and sciences. He has had no formal initiation into the world of music nor dedicated instruction other than his own interest and enthusiasm for performing mus

ic through whistling. He had opportunities to attain guidance from legendary Carnatic Vocalist Dr. Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna. His

meetings with the immortal Shehnai Maestro Ustaad Bismillah Khan inspired and rekindled in him the love and fascination for ‘Hindustani Music’. Added to this, the grammar and text of music imparted by the reputed flute vidhwan Sri N.S. Srinivasan has enriched his talent and made Mr. Sivaprasad... The Complete Artiste.

In our continuing series, Torchbearers of Art, we present an interview with this human whistle, Mukha Murali -- Sivaprasad!

Some excerpts...

Q. How did you come into this unique medium of music?

Answer : Right from childhood I used to hum tunes of all the devotional and classical music that were played at home. It was a hobby.

Q. So it never was a prechosen field of music?

Answer : How could it have been. There was no precedent set, something never thought of and whistling was something that you only used to tease girls with.

Q. So then what made you what you are today -- a whistle wizard?

Answer : It was a hobby appreciated by friends and peers that inspired me to take up seriously and train myself in the Carnatic mould. But first, humbly I recall every instance that it is but a gift of God. At the right moments in life I got opportunities that took me and placed me before great stalwarts like Balamurali Krishna who insisted that I continue the practise of Whistle when many whom I came across did not show much encouragement. My meeting with Ustaad Bismillah was what proved to be the most inspiring as in the respect and dignity that my talent beheld. Do you know that it was he who raised Shehnai single-handedly from an instrument of ridicule to that high position what it is today. It seems Shehnai was only used more for funerals. And to think what he achieved... that is great! Yes! I got my inspiration from that moment on.

Q. What do you think has been your singular achievement?

Answer : I have yet to achieve in that sense but going back I think I have achieved in turning a hobby into a high form of expression, to mould into the traditional style of classical music and today I can give a solo classical concert.

Q. Your brochure mentions a mindboggling 1000 concerts...

Answer : Yes and they have taken me to 18 countries of which one of my most cherished tours was the Festival of India held in Moscow, Russia in 1998. The government had picked some 500 artists form various fields among whom featured greats like M.S. Subbalakshmi and I feel greatly honoured that I was part of such an illustrious tour.

Q. Please tell us about your record in the Limca Book of Records.

Answer : In 1990 I released my first Long Playing Record entitled “Indian Classical Music on Whistle”, which is sort of never been done before.

Q. What kind of experience or feeling do you attach with whistling?

Answer : I practise regularly, 2-3 hours everyday and it is a form of meditation. It gives me immense satisfaction. Whatever I’m today is because...

Q. When did you give your first concert?

Answer : At the age of twelve.

Q. Tell us a moment of pure thrill during your musical career.

Answer : There are many incidents where I have felt proud of myself but recently only I will tell you of an incident that was really thrilling. After one of my concerts this gentleman from Bengal approached me and asked me whether I would be interested in giving a concert in Calcutta. I readily agreed and to my utter astonishment the event was named, I came to know on my arrival, “An evening with Shivaprasad -- The Whistle Wizard.” I assumed to be a part of some function and not the center of the evening itself! And Calcuttans, you know, being great lovers of music truly enjoyed the sense of variety that a whistle concert provides and when I rendered a Rabindra composition they all went wild and even I did not expect and that which was simply thrilling -- stood in ovation!

Q. What is your aim now after having already accomplished something unique?

Answer : To render the timeless compositions of all the great vagyayikaras down the history on a Compact Disk. There are many who felt that Classical music in the form of whistle proves very soothing and is a form a relaxation. So if somebody while driving down a busy road can relax himself with a thyagaraya keertana softly whistling... I think it will be a good idea.

Madireddy Mamatha

Madireddy Mamatha

Interview with a poised Dansuese

The setting was unusual. It always is when your assignment is an interview. Your subject is an individual and that too when she happens to be an accomplished dancer in the Bharatanatyam mould. This month I introduce Madi Reddy Mamatha, a dusky woman with eyes twinkling like those of a child.

When we sat in the antiquated lounge of one of the ancient clubs of the city, the Secunderabad Club for our tete-a-tete, a thought struck me. Here I am sitting where people bask in a typical colonial ambience, however much they sweat beneath their dinner jackets, and interviewing a dancer of a classical tradition. Two different worlds we blend our lives into!

Madi Reddy Mamatha has been described as a very fine exponent by leading reviews. One of her performances recently, I saw in Ravindra bharathi. The role of Draupadi was enacted in a contemporary dance ballet where she daringly questions the very basis of male thinking. We were all seeing a powerful artiste who moved with an unbridled passion notwithstanding the fearful quaking of a humiliated woman.

A student of Shankarananda Kalakshetra, Mamatha was raised in Hyderabad and studied dance under the tutelage of Ananda Shankar, the renowned dancer and a personality prepossessed. Our conversation throughout reflected a tremendous influence of teacher over disciple. This is to the spirit of tradition. Salute!

Some excerpts… (My every question brought forth a remarkably precise recollection of exact date and year down the twenty odd years.)

Q. How did it all start?

Answer : Shankarabharanam! That one movie… I knew I had to learn dance. That was in my second class. I remember I joined the dance class on 20th June 1980. That was when Akka started her Dance Class in Keys High School.

Q. Akka…?

Answer : Ananda Shankar! (She comes out in a rhythm that suggests, “Who else but!”) Twenty years and I still remember very well.

Q. Tell us about your early memories…

Answer : Well, 20th September 1980 (just after two months) -- my first performance. It was hilarious. I played Krishna and I had my robe slipping off. My principal was trying hard to pull me backstage and I kept wriggling out, insistent upon not losing any of the action! Those times were good. And I had my Arangetam on October 17th 1983 (A dancer’s formal initiation and maiden performance. It is a solemn tradition in any south Indian classical dance form).

Q. Who has been your main support and inspiration?

Answer : Family has been very supportive. Without them I would never have come this far. My inspiration, my idol, my guru and mentor, all are but one – Akka. She has inspired all of us to lead our lives in a way. “Dance to your heart’s content. Not for bread ‘n’ butter,” she used to say. And today I combine both dance and my work careers very efficiently.

Q. And what pays for your bread?

Answer : I work as a Manager Finance/Administration for a software company here in Hyderabad.

Q. Does it not take you away from dance?

Answer : No, not at all. Have been working for the last many years. It never messed with my dance. Had that been the case, I wo

uld not be having my performances frequently. I would not have toured abroad in the past few years.

Q. About your trips abroad?

Answer : I joined Akka on my first visit abroad to Cyprus, Egypt. It was sponsored by ICCR. I remember it was hot! Where people called it a tan-paradise, we were constantly shielding ourselves from being scorched to death! But it was fun. We even went for a mid night swim in the ocean! Our next trip was more exciting. All of us, our entire batch traveled extensively spanning Japan to Burma. It was a great learning experience.

Q. Tell us about the high points of your life.

Answer : Ummm… Certainly memorable was my first All India Gold Medal back in 1983. (She got one in ‘84 too) It coincided with Akka’s b’day. Another fact was; Akka had won a similar gold medal in ’73. So that was like coming a whole circle. It felt great.

Q. Anything else that makes you feel great?

Answer : Sachin Tendulkar! I love cricket. Why! We have our own family celebrity in the form of my Uncle. He captained Hyderabad that won the ’86 Ranji Trophy. In fact our family has been associated with cricket for a quite a while. So it does rub off.

Q. So finally, what has it been like, and how do you intend it to be?

Answer : I would never have it any other way. And how I intend to be? I’m going to continue the same, work and dance, not necessarily in that order. I would like to start a dance school, as a part of Shankarananda Kalakshetra and not separately, mind you. - Best of luck Mamatha!

Daler Mehndi

Daler Mehndi

Interview with the king of Punjabi Pop

Daler Mehndi, king of pop, the singing sardar with his jewel encrusted turban. A veritable livewire on stage, as Hyderabadis will swear to. At various times said to be media hungry, attention grabbing, applause seeking. And yet, what happens come interview time? Easier pulling teeth out I can tell you. Read on for yourself...

Q. Is music for you a passion or a profession?

Answer : Both

Q. You have often been accused of promoting only family members in your group?

Answer : This is media created. No one else said this to me.

Q. How do you handle criticism?

Answer : Leave it to God

Q. How come you haven’t jumped onto the ads endorsement brandwagon?

Answer : As a matter of fact, I have recently shot an ad for Coke. It will be on air shortly.

Q. Would you say that you have reached your present position people who have helped me. I raise a lot of money for this project through shows, etc. And we will continue to do so with a lot of hard work, but without much struggle?

Answer : It is not possible for anyone to reach such a position without struggle. Ofcourse, hard work has been there, but I have struggled a lot too.

Q. What is your opinion on the widespread corruption in our country?

Answer : No comments!

Q. And on the recent, ongoing cricket scandal?

Answer : I am not at all interested in cricket - have never watched a match, right from childhood. I know there is a scandal, but I can’t comment.

Q. Would you like to do more work for the film industry, or continue with your shows/albums?

Answer : I would like to do both.

Q. With all your extensive touring, which country do you feel has been most appreciative of your music?

Answer : No particular country that has especially appreciated it. All over the world, everyone has liked my music.

Q. A green environment is your pet project. Do you ever feel frustrated that not many people care as much?

Answer : I have never felt frustrated that no one else seems to care, simply because there are a lot of...

Jayaprada

Jayaprada

Interview with a heartrob of many a Telugu population

Undoubtedly the most classic face ever to have graced the Indian film screen, JAYAPRADA today is a dignified, graceful wom

an, secure in herself. Its those very same classic features, free of any make-up that hit you think! on the nose, and do all the talking for her, while you are content to be stunned into silence. She is quiet and understated in her demeanor, her conversation punctuated by, uninhibited laughter… Jayaprada, the woman, actress, and politician, would like to don another hat in the new millennium - that of motherhood.

Q. Have you stopped acting altogether?

Answer : Oh no, that’s the main part of my life, my own identity. But yes, I am becoming more choosy now. I am doing a couple of Hindi films, then, I have some Bengali, Kannada and Telugu projects lined up.

Q. How did it all begin, for you?

Answer : I was fourteen when I started my film career. Someone saw me dancing at a function once and, since my father was a Telugu film financier, it just went on from there. My first film as a heroine was K. Balachander’s, opposite Rajnikant and Kamal Hassan. I remember there was this wide shot we were doing which all three of us were muffing up turn by turn, and Balachanderji just gave Kamal a slap! I got so scared I started crying and ran away from the sets. My father had to take me shopping that evening, buy me mounds and mounds of clothes and jewellery, before I could be convinced to go back the next day.

Q. How did you decide to get into politics?

Answer : When people came to know I’m joining politics, they were really shocked, because I’m such an introvert by nature! I respected NTR a lot; his policies were close to the way I think. And what I like about Mr. Naidu is that he concentrates on the rural women, which is something I really wanted. And he discusses everything, so that we all feel he gives equal importance to our opinions. There are no solo decisions.

Q. How involved are you really, as President of the Telugu Mahila Mandal?

Answer : Well, the post means more opportunity to give my services to the women. Even if not 100% - even if I can satisfy them only 10%, there will be a meaning to my life. I also want to make a centre for female babies, where they can be safe. All this talk that we are equal to men is just rubbish - families are still throwing these babies out on the rubbish heap! In my personal capacity, the Jayaprada Charitable Trust has set up 180 computer centres all over Andhra Pradesh, only for girls, where they pay just 20% of the fees and we take care of the rest. I also plan to set up a diagnostic centre here soon.

Q. How would you describe yourself?

Answer : I’m an introvert. I talk less, listen more, and believe in action! I try to be a normal woman, like any other housewife. Sometimes I too quarrel with my husband, especially when he forgets to give me my pocket money. See, how much ever you may earn for yourself, there is a sense of belonging when your husband gives you money.

Q. What do you most enjoy spending on?

Answer : Jewellery. I love diamonds. Otherwise too, I just love shopping, I can just shop and shop.

Q. So, is money the most important thing in life?

Answer : (Seriously) Not the most, but I would say it is important. However talented you may be, there is no status in society without money. Look at Savithri, Meena Kumari… nobody came forward to help them when they needed it, there was not even enough money to pay for their funeral. In that sense, it is also an evil. I think greed and excess will lead you to trouble.

Q. Life is never easy - for anyone. How do you cope?

Answer : I am a very emotional person. I used to be very timid, but I’ve learnt to become stronger now. Women have to make a lot of compromises. Yes, I’ve suffered a lot, also suffered because of some ugly rumours but I’m immune to all those problems

now. I don’t want to waste any more time in life.

Q. How do you handle criticism?

Answer : I think the people, my fans, give the answer to that on my behalf. I cannot stoop to the same level and degrade myself - that is not my upbringing. I am really grateful to the media for their support, and also the public; I am always aware that I have reached this position only because of their love.

Q. Do you ever regret anything?

Answer : Yes, cutting short my education. The way normal teenagers spend their free time - I miss not having had that. Left to myself, I would have probably been a doctor, I love that profession.

Q. People chase you, admire you, hang up your pin-ups on their wall. Have you ever been a fan of anyone?

Answer : The only autograph I’ve ever taken in my life has been Mother Theresa’s. She is my inspiration. She’s Great!

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