A Journey Through Indian Art, History Recounted in the Lives of Forlorn Lovers

Photos: Jasleen Kaur

Photo: Jasleen Kaur

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By Jawahar Malhotra

STAFFORD: It was a Bollywood inspired story of lovers who meet by chance and then just as easily, almost lose each other only to realize, just in time, the lessons of true love and make the fateful decision to be with other. This story that has been recounted often in the passage of time by lovers throughout the history of India, with well-known tales of historical figures like Shah Jahan who created the Taj Mahal and even in Indian folklore in the lives of Heer and Ranjha, Laila and Majnu and many more across the cultural map of the Subcontinent.

And this same genre was depicted on stage to show not only the power of love, oft times snatched away by others or circumstances, in the lives of six popular historical figures and lovers. Keka Kar, the indefatigable and talented local artist from Katy, and her equally versatile husband Stayajeet (better known as Jeet), presented their production of Waqt ke Safar Mein Kahin (Somewhere in Time) at the Old Stafford Civic Center this past Saturday, November 11.

Backstage after the performance, from left, Arshia Rosaleen, Keka Kar, Shouvik Chakraborty and Madhuka Dutta. Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

Backstage after the performance, from left, Arshia Rosaleen, Keka Kar, Shouvik Chakraborty and Madhuka Dutta. Photo: Jawahar Malhotra

The pair have created a visually stunning and captivating dance musical using acclaimed dancers, choreographers and musicians from India and mingled them with young budding and aspiring performance students from Taylor High School in Katy where Keka teaches. The mix of Indian semi-classical, with Bollywood flair, contemporary American Waltz and Latino Swing performed by Indian and American dancers was exquisite, graceful and exciting to watch.    

“We settled on this style last year when we presented “Fisherman and His Soul” based on a story by Oscar Wilde,” Keka explained a couple of days afterwards. “But this year, we developed our own story line and came up with original music, adaptations of songs, dances and visuals. We had most of the pre-production visuals, videos and narration professionally produced in India.” Whereas last year’s show was performed to raise money for the Lilli Curry Memorial Fund, proceeds from the show held once again at the same venue to a sold out audience of 900, went to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and Childhood Cancer Research.

Kinjal Chatterjee performed his first number with enthusiastic student dancers and Abhishek Banerjee (in cap) backing him up. Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

Kinjal Chatterjee performed his first number with enthusiastic student dancers and Abhishek Banerjee (in cap) backing him up. Photo: Jawahar Malhotra

The story centers around a young American man, Justin, of mixed ancestry, who returns from a tour of duty fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Haunted by his experiences, he struggles to cope and his Indian mother advises him to travel to India to learn about the ancient culture and history. On the plane he meets an Indian girl, Lolita, returning after finishing her education in the US and she tells him tales from India’s past, focusing on the love stories of Amarapali, Anarkali and Saleem, Jodha and Akbar, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz, Bajirao and Mastani and the fictional characters Devdas and Paro. In the end, Justin falls for Lolita, who reveals she is to be married shortly, but she finally realizes her future lies with him and flies to him in the US.

As the couple walk across stage between scenes, the tales are played out by the dancers, frequently led by Bengali performers Arshia Rosaleen, Madhuka Dutta and Shouvik Chakraborty with music especially created with original interpretations by Somnath Chakraborty and background Hindi movie songs (some sang by Keka and Jeet). Meanwhile, on the gigantic backdrop video screen as wide as the stage and eight feet high, photos from historical sites and video clips from related Bollywood movies of yore like Mughal-e-Azam and more recent like Jodha Akbar were shown. A deep male voice narrated the events in Hindi, with captions printed out in English at the base of the video screen.

A dance sequence from the show featuring Taylor High Schools dancers. Photo: Jasleen Kaur

A dance sequence from the show featuring Taylor High Schools dancers. Photo: Jasleen Kaur

The experience was mesmerizing and engrossing as the six love stories unfold in 11 dance segments, in one of which Keka, a Kathak trained artist, performs. A few numbers are performed entirely by non-Indian students from Taylor High who completely meld into their personas as luxuriously attired Indian princelings and dancers in colorful costumes and intricate movements and they alternated scenes and dance numbers with Indian female dancers as the stories unraveled. Two scenes featured an American inspired waltz and a Latino dance with yellow and deep blue swirling skirts.

But the evening was stolen by the three Bengali dancers, and especially Shouvik Chakraborty who not only looked as if he was totally relaxed and enjoying himself, but brought the rest of the dancers together by his stage presence, while the beautiful and equally radiant and poised Arshia Rosaleen and Madhuka Dutta held their end of the pas de trois. It must be noted that the lighting and complex video mixing and controls was done by Sage Productions while the masterful sound quality and controls was by always energetic perfectionist Darshak Thacker of Krishna Sounds who would scramble onstage to fix any errant issues.

Shouvik Chakraborty in the first dance segment. Photos: Jasleen Kaur

Shouvik Chakraborty in the first dance segment. Photo: Jasleen Kaur

After the heady conclusion to the first half of the show, and a brief 30-minute intermission, the evening belonged to Kinjal Chatterjee who also performed at the show last year. Kinjal is the winner of Zee Bangla Sa-Re-Ga Ma-Pa 2010 and also performed at the North American Bengali Convention in Houston in 2015. “It feels like a homecoming for me,” quipped the young singer with his burly hair, and a dark Nehru jacket wore strode onstage to an quick number with energetic dancers from Taylor HS led by local dynamo Abhishek Banerjee who also played a bit part in the previous show.

“Performing music is like being a chef – I cater to all tastes,” he quipped as he dove into a theme of popular love songs from the 60s to the present, often accompanying himself on a guitar. He played to the audience’s tastes, and many times, they sang along or ended the verses of some popular numbers like Chaudvin ka Chand Ho, Kabhi Kabhi and Woh Sham Ajeeb Thi. He also sang an original number released for the first time by music composer Somnath Chakraborty who accompanied him onstage on the rhythm guitar, while Jyoti Prokaah of California played the tabla.

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