“I Never Performed For The Gallery”: Sohini Roychowdhury

By Loudest Team
January 27, 2022
“I Never Performed For The Gallery”: Sohini Roychowdhury
By Noor Anand Chawla With the world becoming increasingly globalised and homogenised, the bastion of Indian classical music and dance has been hit tremendously. However, there are beacons who continue to champion and promote our beautiful culture, in India and the world. Sohini Roychowdhury – Bharatanatyam dancer and creator of her own dance style called Moksha, is leading the way. She joins BW Loudest for a candid chat about her practice. Excerpts from an edited interview:

Q. Hello! We would love to know about your journey in this industry so far. A. Hi! I started practicing Bharatanatyam a little after I turned four years. My father is renowned Sitarist Pt. Subroto Roychowdhury and my mother Uma is a Sculptor, so I grew up in a home where the arts were revered. As a child, I remember seeing a performance of Pt. Birju Maharaj where he was already ageing, but as soon as he played a coy and bashful Radha, the whole audience fell in love with his strong abhinaya. I also saw a concert of Yamini Krishnamoorthy, and it was like watching God dance! I told my father I wanted to learn this dance form. In our house, you had to be serious about pursuing art – it couldn’t be trivialised. One day, I came across a senior student of dancer Thankamani Kutty - I took her number and asked my father that I would like to start learning from her! I also learnt Kathakali and Mohiniyattam with Govindan Kutty as my teacher. However, Bharatanatyam was my chosen form and I later specialised in it with my Guru Kalamandalam Venkitt. They were the best gurus that one could have. They were kind and approachable and never made you feel overwhelmed or scared. My first performances were around the age of 16 / 17, which I got on my own steam. They were for cultural conferences in Kolkata. Soon after, I was selected to perform in Austria for a concert and Q&A session, after an audition – the judges felt I could communicate with a diverse audience seamlessly. Now, I teach dance to students from 14 countries, many of whom perform on stage. These include Kristina Veselinova from Bulgaria, Maria Sanz from Spain and Celia from France. I teach them online thrice a week. For the last four years, I have been teaching marginalised girls from a shelter home called Little Big Help Trust in Kolkata – they have performed on stage 5-7 times, and I’m sure this group will produce numerous artists of tomorrow. I also work on wellness and dance therapy through mudra sutras, which focus on pressure points of the body to fight depression, panic attacks etc. Recently, I performed for COP26 in Glasgow, which was my first live show post-pandemic, and also for the second UN She Inspires Award Ceremony, where I was awarded the Global Cultural Champion Award and the Woman of the Year Award. A book was recently published about my life on stage, by the publisher Roli Books. It’s called ‘Dancing with the Gods’ and it was launched by Dr Amish Tripathi in London. The book is about Bharatanatyam and mythology as seen on my stage – put together from my lectures and seminars. Q. Has it been difficult for you to forge a path for Bharatnatyam in today’s day and age? A.Yes, I guess so. When I look back, I can see it has been difficult, but when I was going through it, I didn’t feel the struggle as much. Any art is a struggle, but we walked on and followed our hearts. I created my own vocabulary for Bharatanatyam called Sohini Moksha and for anything that is new and from the heart, people need to get used to you. But I was never performing for the gallery, I just followed my heart and worked very hard. Q. Please tell us about your association with ShowCase Events. A. Sunita Bhuyan introduced me to Nanni Singh of ShowCase Events, and I quickly developed a close friendship with her. We are both very forthright women with a voice. She invited me for her Facebook Live show called ‘In Conversation’ and I loved doing it with her because she asked lovely, thoughtful questions about Bharatanatyam, which not many people ask. The experience was an enriching one, and I enjoyed being part of it and the audience loved it too. There is complete understanding and empathy between us – we are on the same page creatively. Q. How was your experience of working on the song Synthesis – The Indian Muse? A.It was wonderful - a very happy, exhilarating experience with artists from all over the world. Plus, it brought together all kinds of art and various genres to show that the world is one. The story of how it happened is also interesting - Nanni called me almost at midnight, and asked me to be part of it. I said yes immediately! It was a labour of love, which we all needed during Covid times. I feel the degree of happiness something brings, is a true measure of success. Making Synthesis – the Indian Muse was a very happy process, and even now whenever we see the video or hear the song, we smile. Q. Any exciting projects in the works? A.I just performed at the Apeejay Kolkata Literature Fest 2022, where I was chosen to pay tribute to Pt Birju Maharaj ji. I was keen to do something different, even though it was about him and his genre. So, I made a collage of excerpts of his songs from Bollywood, and I infused abhinaya in it, because that was his forte. This performance was very close to my heart because he was my introduction to this dance form, and I’ve felt a connection with him since I started dancing. One can see the performance on the AKLF 2022 Facebook page. Next, I’m heading to the Jaipur Literature Fest 2022, to speak on the finer nuances of Shringar – based on my book ‘Dancing with the Gods’, which will also be read there. Another exciting beginning is with the Byre Theatre of St Andrews University in Scotland. They have invited me to be part of their Performing Arts Faculty – I will be teaching their students and doing projects with them, where they will also dance with me. I’m very excited about this because it has a sprung stage and it is a beautiful and historic place. Q. What advice do you have for people entering this field now? A.Dreams are very important – you must dream because without a dream you can’t do anything. But each dream must also be substantiated with strong discipline.

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