Pandita Rohini Bhate, also known fondly as Baby Tai, was a famous Kathak dancer whose talent knew no bounds. She founded the Nrityabharati Kathak Dance Academy (1947) in Pune and was a renowned Kathak danseuse along with being a motivational Guru to many disciples. With many awards to her credit, she had also choreographed several ballet acts that focused on dance and abhinaya. Guru Pandita Rohini Bhate was also instrumental in bringing Kathak in focus in the regions of Maharashtra – a state that already has a rich culture of theater, drama, and folk dance.
The award-winning Kather exponent of the Lucknow-Jaipur gharana may have passed away at the age of 83, but her dreams, aspirations and vision continues through many of her disciples. Not many Punekars would be aware about her dance class at Deccan (currently, the place no longer exists due to the presence of a new mall.) Today, the fruits of her labour can be witnessed through many dance classes by accomplished dancers who trained with her and have continued this tradition not only in Pune, but also in metros like Bangalore and abroad. In a time when classical Indian dance is slowly fading away into the background with the growing popularity of Bollywood dance, the efforts by her students need to be applauded. They continue her work silently, without any pretensions and are inspirational indeed. We throw the spotlight on three institutes.
Rujuta Soman Cultural Academy
Smt. Rujuta Soman founded her academy R.S.C.A (Rujuta Soman Cultural Academy) in Pune and Mumbai. This talented dancer creates her own compositions and has choreographed many Kathak dance programs. The aura of her dance style has crossed the borders of Pune and her dancers have even enthralled viewers abroad. Rujuta devised a “Life in Gurukul” program which aims to promote this dance form amongst foreigners. The academy had several dance performances lined up in Europe last year. Rujuta has also conceptualized several dance choreographies for charity events.
Riddham Kathak School
The dance school was founded by Ms. Sampada Pillai in 2012. The aim of the dance school is to offer training through a beautiful synthesis of the Guru-Shishya parampara. Earlier, Ms. Pillai continued her Guru’s teachings to various students in Pune, and currently, she resides in Bangalore. Despite the popularity of Bharatnatyam, Riddham has a strong presence in Bangalore and enables learning in a methodological manner without adding any stress on its disciples. Says Sampada Pillai, “I continue to teach with Guru Pandita Rohiniji’s blessings in my heart. It’s about making people aware of India’s rich culture and tradition. The happiness doubles when foreigners from different parts of the world spend time in Bangalore to learn this dance form.” Ms. Pillai has worked with several German artistes for a fusion choreography and also co-choreographed a short film titled “Radha Bhakti Sudha” (2007). The film received a Jury’s Special Mention Award at the New York Short Film Festival (2008). She signs off, “Kathak has given me the strength to go on when there was no hope, helping me cope and overcome adversities and guiding me towards contentment and serenity. I wish to share this by not just creating good dancers but helping them discover inner peace and happiness.”
Rachana Kathak Dance Academy
Founded by Mrs. Rajashree Jawadekar, Rachana Dance Academy continues the learnings of Guru Pandita Rohini Bhate in Pune. Rajashree, a disciple of Late Pandita Rohini Bhate, has carved a niche for herself as a veteran Kathak performer. She, along with Ms. Sampada, performed in the Nrityabharati troupe on many occasions. This wonderful dancer has many awards to her credit. Her troupe performed a cultural programme with *Taiko. (*This refers to Japanese percussion instruments.) Says Rajashree, “Our Guru was a perfectionist and taught us to never aim for awards. She told us to be committed to this art form no matter the problems we may face in life.” Rachana continues to train young minds and spread the rich tradition of Kathak through original compositions such as Chandika Stuti, Krishnaranga, Tala Teentala, and more.
Baby Tai has certainly left behind a great legacy in Kathak and it is due to her numerous disciples that this dance form continues to flourish in different parts of India and abroad. Pune became a prominent city due to its culture owing to the efforts of many talented dancers that belonged to this region.