THE HERETIC DANCER
Astad Deboo is used to being at odds with convention.
He pioneered contemporary Indian dance when toying with tradition wasn’t welcome, and persisted through the 70s and 80s despite audiences being largely perplexed by where he stood on the dance scale: for Indians, he was too western; for the west, not Indian enough.
But as often happens with those ahead of the curve, reality and popular imagination eventually caught up and thanks to the breaking of boundaries between cultures – especially facilitated by the Internet – Astad has gone on to become one of the country’s best respected performers, known for the skill, imaginativeness and breathtaking originality of his work. He’s performed across the globe, from Japan and the US to Europe and across South Asia, in a career spanning over 40 eventful years. His unique dance style merges his kathak roots with a host of influences, from Manipur’s thang-ta (a martial arts form) and the pung cholam drum dancers. His solo, group and collaborative choreography acquired a different dimension when, 20 years ago, he started embracing opportunities to work with the differently abled. His creative choreography with deaf dancers became a pathbreaking movement and he performed with similar movements worldwide, including the Theatre of the Deaf in Mexico and the Theatre of Silence in Hong Kong.
In recent years, he’s worked with children from the Salaam Balak Trust, challenging the youngsters – many of whom come from dark, violent backgrounds – to channel their energies into the rigour and discipline needed for his own meditative and minimalistic style. He’s won innumerable awards, collaborated with the leading lights of contemporary dance across the world, and fused a staggering array of influences into a style that is distinctly his. What hasn’t changed, though, is that every performance – from the subtle to the dramatic – is poetry in motion.
THE SKILLED SUTRADHAAR
She’s a music educationist with a passion for taking the world of songs to children in their schools and communities. As co-founder of Art Links Learning, she builds relationships with conservatories to take their evolved traditional and classical music to schools in structured form from the ages of 2 1/2.
A passionate believer in the concept that music knows no hierarchies, Sadhana leads a pool of trained faculty and educationists to take classical music mainstream. As curator of the daytime music performances at THiNK, she has helped construct disparate musical influences into a cohesive whole.
A Masters in Social Work from Delhi University, she honed her research, consulting and execution skills at the Administrative Staff College of India. Living in Chennai she continues to be a student and researcher of Western Classical and Hindustani music. Most recently, she has embarked on a project to spawn Music & Arts Learning Circles & Communities for different genres and interest groups using online social technology.
MISTRESS OF SOUL
Some songs come to define a performer. For Kavita Seth, that song is Iktara from Wake Up Sid, a track that has gone into the realm of musical legend. But Kavita Seth is much more than one song. Trained in Hindustani and classical music, her strength is the power and sheer haunting quality of her voice. Her forte is the sufi style – she has recorded a staggering 8,000 sufi songs in her musical career so far, but popular acclaim came with her introduction into the playback genre.
Discovered by director Satish Kaushik during a performance at Muzaffar Ali’s International Sufi Concert, she sang the song Zinadagi ko Maula in his film Vaada, instantly establishing her as a voice to be reckoned with in the playback industry. Among a host of memorable songs, she received special notice for Mujhe Mat Roko in Anurag Basu’s Gangster. More recently, she was the feisty voice behind the wildly popular Tum Hi Ho Bandhu from the movie Cocktail.
Her last album, Sufiana, features an eclectic collection of Rumi’s poetry fashioned into melodies that illustrate the core of Sufism while still retaining the contemporary styles of modern music.
FIDDLER BY THE SEA
She may be a trained human resource professional with 17 years in the corporate world behind her but it is as a violinist, with a master’s degree in Hindustani Music and as a disciple of the late violin maestro Pandit V G Jog that Sunita dazzles.
A recipient of the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award for Music, she is that rare performer who blends skill and a nuanced understanding of music with spunk on stage.
She started out training with her mother, the eminent violinist Minoti Khaund, then went on to do jugalbandis with her mother. Her musical range is breathtakingly wide, from pure classical music to a wide range of light melodies that fuse jazz, folk and a host of other influences to create a distinctive sound. She excels in blending influences – Bharat Darshan is her musical exploration of Indian folk while Raagas to Bollywood traces the underlying classical roots of many of filmdom’s most enduring compositions. Her recent album, Bihu Strings, explores the classical and world music influences in North-Eastern folk music.
LAVANYA & SUBBALAXMI
THE SAXOPHONE SISTERS
It’s an instrument you don’t often hear played in India. You certainly don’t hear it played by women. And we can wager you haven’t heard it used in a rendition of Carnatic music.
Yet Lavanya and Subbalaxmi – nicknamed the Sax Sisters – are doing just that. Arguably the only pro female saxophonists in the country, they began their musical journey at the age of six with vocal and violin training. A family steeped in music – their father is a mridangist while their grandfather was a musician in the Royal Court of Mysore and the family boasts over 10 percussionists today – Lavanya and Subbu switched to learning the saxophone from maestro Dr Kadri Gopinath, a legendary musician who has been awarded the Padmashree.
Their choice of instrument hasn’t alienated them from their musical roots though; rather, it offers a unique interpretation to traditional sounds. Their repertoire includes everything from Carnatic music to Hindustani, fusion and western to jazz, but it is in fusing these radically diverse sounds that Lavanya and Subbu find their greatest and most rewarding challenge. With performances across the world including at The Little Chilli Festival of Asian Music at Purcell Hall and the Bath International Music Festival, they’ve come to define the genre they have chosen for themselves. With over 5000 performances in 17 countries, a host of awards to their name, and even an entry in the Limca Book of Records, one thing is clear – in the world of music, individuality rules.
THE WICKED WIT
He’s the stand-up comic who was too smart to be anything else.
With a BSc in Geology, an MBA in Marketing and a 6 ½ year stint as a media executive with organizations like PMG and MTV came the realisation that the careers of Warren Buffet and Philip Kotler may have taught him a lot in theory but if he wanted to hit the big time, there were lessons to be taken from Rakhi Sawant and Sherlyn Chopra instead.
As one of the country’s finest stand-up comics, Vikram is a much-respected name in entertainment circles – starting from the 2006 CEAT Cricket Awards and an amateur You Tube video to performing at elite venues across the country. He co-writes his acts with fellow geologist and former MTV colleague Suhail Bagdadi; better known in political and spiritual circles as ‘Baba Baghdadi’. His repertoire includes everything from sport, politics, current affairs and Bollywood to pop culture and solutions for marital disputes.