HMM’s Ganapati Festival: A Cinematic Salute to Maharashtra

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Photos: Rajesh Thatte

By Neeta Bhate Patwardhan

HOUSTON: This year’s HMM Ganapati festival was a proud tribute to culture that has survived the dual threats of time and a new homeland. Each generation re-imagines festivals altering ever so slightly the original flavor, till one no longer even remembers why they take place. It was refreshing therefore to experience in all its authenticity, a festival made public by Lokmanya Tilak in 1894.

The reverberations of Dhol, Taasha, Lezim led by Swapnil Saraf, Sangeeta Panse and Sharmila Moharir gave the evening a resounding start.

The main program, a reenergized performance of “Ganapati Gauri Pandhari” (GGP) that Houston had so loved 10 years ago captivated an audience of more than 800 at the VPSS hall on Saturday September 26th. The show, a multimedia collaboration intertwined several magical elements: music, the visual poetry of dance and storytelling to deliver its message.

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Conceptualized by Vivek Chitale and co-directed by Madhura Swadi the grand production took us on an evocative journey into the remote reaches of Maharashtra through the artistry of 120 Houstonians, both adults and children.

In Samir Karandikar’s intelligently crafted skit, young boys visited the Ashta Vinayak circuit.  Color and exuberant movements exploded through transcendent dances choreographed with emotional depth by Madhura Swadi, Rupa Aranke, Sheetal Hengle and Manjusha Jadhav.  Raw energy and simple joy swirled together as dancers paid homage to Ganapati, Gauri and Vitthal, the three deities associated with many festivals of Maharashtra.

Seamless integration of music and dance is no easy task. Vivek Chitale and Ravi Kolhatkar led a team of musicians, the heart of the production that delivered with finesse.

Excellent food (including steamed modaks) and logistics by HMM made for a memorable evening.

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In the tango between music and dance, novice and seasoned performers, storytelling and acting, between the past and future, somewhere in the juxtaposition of these contrasts, lies the elemental truth. The triumphant power of community coming together will surely be the lasting legacy of GGP.

The great mystery of immigration is an even stronger need to keep home alive. Immigrants constantly flirt with the romantic notion that home is elusive, perhaps as ethereal as the glow of a distant horizon.

This year’s Ganapati was a testament to all we’ve held onto and hope that our children will too. It reminds us that home is an intangible concept, a figment of where our imagination chooses to anchor us. It is neither here nor there but rooted everywhere within our communities, the heritage we keep alive and the freedom that makes it possible for us to celebrate with pride.