Desis play Holi in unholy weather

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The KC Group Canada celebrated the festival of colours Holi in sub-zero temperature. Photo by Radhika Panjwani

The KC Group Canada celebrated the festival of colours Holi in sub-zero temperature.

For years now, the KC Group Canada has refused to let the Canadian winter/spring come in the way of its Holi celebrations.

Holi is a festival of colours celebrated in most parts of India at the start of spring. The colour-run  can be compared to the La Tomatina festival of Spain, except in this case, tomatoes are not harmed in the revelry. In fact, there are no fruit or vegetables involved.

For Holi, masses of people take to the streets armed with water guns and coloured powder called ‘Gulal’ which they toss at one another. In the larger scheme of things, Holi gives everyone—adults and children—a chance to bring out their inner child.

In India, the festival is played outdoors, but here in Canada, the KC Group celebrated Holi indoors inside the National Banquet Hall in Mississauga.

Also, the play of Holi was restricted to a small area on the hardwood dance floor. It sure got cramped in the space as people jostled around. One can only imagine the horror on the faces of the cleaning crew should they discover the stubborn colour stuck to the carpet, furniture and upholstery. Nevertheless, despite the obvious limitations, some 300 people let their hair down and partied as if there was no tomorrow.

The KC Group Canada has been celebrating Holi and Diwali in Canada despite the fact that the realities of weather here along with combination of city bylaws dilute the fun a bit. Also, in Canada, organizers sanitize the tradition by making it all above board.

The KC Group Canada celebrated the festival of colours Holi at the National Banquet Hall in Mississauga.

The KC Group Canada celebrated the festival of colours Holi at the National Banquet Hall in Mississauga.

Let me explain, in India, one of the staples of Holi is a drink called Bhang. Now, Bhang is a drink made from the leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. Using a mortar and pestle, people smash the leaves and flowers and grind it to a fine paste which they incorporate into a drink. It’s not uncommon—in India— to see men completely wasted on Holi and looking comical with multi-coloured hues of gulal stuck the faces, hair and clothes.

As a South Indian, I was always envious of the traditions practiced in the North. Seriously, how cool is that you can get drunk on Holi and gamble on Diwali?

Food and drink aside, Holi is about dancing. No one can sing a Holi song better than Indian’s evergreen superstar Amitabh Bachchan. His deep gravelly voice has some kind of power. When I heard his songs at the KC Group’s Holi bash, I was filled with sheer nostalgia of the past. Ah, those were the days.

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Kathak in Canada would have faded into sidelines if not for Rina Singha

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Toronto's Kathak legend Rina Singha, 77, will be presenting a show starting Thursday, March 20 to Saturday, March 22 at Harbourfront Centre. The show is an ode to her guru Shambu Maharaj. Supplied photo.

Toronto’s Kathak legend Rina Singha, 77, will be presenting a show starting Thursday, March 20 to Saturday, March 22 at Harbourfront Centre. The show is an ode to her guru Shambu Maharaj.
Supplied photo.

The Indian dance form of Kathak can be described as a motion of pure grace and poetry.

There’s a certain economy of space and time. To a bystander unschooled in any dance form whatsoever, the dancer’s quick movements and the music’s short staccato bursts may appear completely in tandem.

In India, religion and arts, oddly enough are interwoven. For instance, the pursuit of classical dance and singing has by and large been the domain of Hindus and to some extent the Muslims.

So, it’s fascinating that Toronto native Rina Singha, 77, has not only elevated Kathak on the world platform, but as a Christian, she has immortalized her spirituality, faith and fables into a visually compelling stories through Kathak.

In what can be described as an ode to her teacher—Guru Shambu Maharaj—Singha, and choreographer/friend Danny Grossman are presenting Circle of Bricks- Rhythms of Kathak, starting Thursday, March 20 and running until Saturday, March 22, at the Harbourfront Centre (Fleck Dance Theatre). On Thursday and Friday the show will run at 8 p.m. on Saturday, it’s at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $30/person.

When Singha arrived in Toronto from India in 1965, she brought with her, her love for a dance form that may have been dismissed as “quixotic and exotic’ in the arts scene here. Over the next five decades, she worked tirelessly to ensure her beloved Kathak was part of the mainstream art scene.

At 77, Toronto's Rina Singha remains as committed as ever to Kathak. The Toronto native has single- handedly elevated Kathak into the mainstream arts scene here in Canada. Supplied photo

At 77, Toronto’s Rina Singha remains as committed as ever to Kathak. The Toronto native has single- handedly elevated Kathak into the mainstream arts scene here in Canada.
Supplied photo

A Canadian legend, a trailblazer and a dance icon, Singha’s role in keeping the embers of century-old dance alive here in Canada cannot be ignored.

The dancer was introduced to Kathak at 14. While pursuing her Masters degree, she was chosen—through a government-sponsored scholarship—to train under Guru Shambhu Maharaj. Maharaj is to Kathak what Wayne Gretzky is to hockey.

As Maharaj’s student, Singha learned by unlearning. She started from scratch. She mastered the slow tempos over and over again. Then she perfected the opening exercises for three hours everyday. This became her ritual for the next six months. A penchant for perfection and a strong dance ethic became the foundation on which she soared.

“The slow tempos helped to perfect the minute details and nuances of the wrists, neck and eyes, that highlighted the broader arm and body movements,” she recalled.

The next few decades saw Singha experiment with choreography. She enriched the pieces by sprinkling it with life experiences. Her works include: Songs From Exile Walls, Lullabye and Lament, Prithvi (an Earth Narrative) and full-length Biblical works: The Seekers: from the Garden of Eden to the Walls of Jericho.

Singha’s collaboration with Grossman, much like her meeting with Maharaj was orchestrated by destiny. Grossman’s expertise in Christian dance enabled India-born Singha to stray from the tried and tested formula. She created a new repertoire.

Kathak in Canada would have faded into anonymity if not for Rina Singha, 77, who immortalized Christian fables by connecting it to Kathak.

Kathak in Canada would have faded into anonymity if not for Rina Singha, 77, who immortalized Christian fables by connecting it to Kathak.
Supplied photo.

“I am a Christian and I was brought up on Bible stories,” Singha said. “These stories were more meaningful to me than the usual stories of Kathak repertoire, which I could relate to in terms of their human emotions, but not necessarily in terms of their spirituality.”

When incorporating biblical stories, Singha stuck by the rules and chose appropriate laya (speed/tempo) and tala (rhythm). After her first work Genesis, she went on showcase Yeshu Katha in 1991.

Singha describes Circle of Bricks as a “metaphor for creating meaningful Kathak works that extend beyond boundaries of space and time by becoming relevant to a new era, while maintaining the integrity of the dance form and remaining connected to its roots and the soil which first nurtured it.”

Knowing her, we know, it will be something that should not be missed.

For tickets visit here.

This doctor’s journey into arts has only pleasant side effects

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Mississauga native Dr. Amitha Mundenchira pursued a career in medicine, but realized she received all health benefits only when she embraced dance and the arts. Supplied photo.

Mississauga native Dr. Amitha Mundenchira pursued a career in medicine, but realized she received all health benefits only when she embraced dance and the arts.
Supplied photo.

Even though Dr. Amitha Mundenchira, 36, dutifully walked the path envisioned by her parents to pursue a career in medicine, there was never a doubt in her mind about her true calling.

Except of course, in this case, turns out she had more than one.

Mundenchira’s physical and emotional journey was initially fraught with self-doubts and awkwardness, but once she found dance, it became a spiritual calling.

“I rediscovered my passion for arts through dance,” she said. “It’s almost as if I rediscovered myself in the process. Dance was another form of exercise, but because it was Bollywood dancing, I found myself completely immersed into it.”

Mundenchira’s story is one of inspiration and courage. Anyone that’s afraid to chase their dreams should take a leaf or two from her life. Let me retrace and start at the beginning.

Once upon a time, there was a studious girl who buried her face—and identity— in towers of bulky textbooks.  She completed the grueling demands of medical school with a single-minded focus and became a family physician.

Whenever she was stressed or emotionally drained, she found comfort in food. As a result, the girl was not only overweight, but she was weighed down by the monotony of her life.

And so life continued, Day after day as she sat doling advice to her patients about healthy living, she realized, it was hypocritical of her to tell them to practice what she told them to and not do it herself.

So, one day, on the lark, she signed-up for a Bollywood dance class, purged oily food from her diet and plunged headlong into a new territory. Slowly, the pounds began to fall, as did her awkwardness. It wasn’t long before offers for modeling; acting and dance performances came her way.

“Through dancing, I found a whole new world,” said a radiant Mundenchira. “I found I could de-stress through dance. Dance also helped me with my self-esteem issues. I realized could express through dance, anger, happiness or whatever other emotions I was experiencing.”

Dr. Amitha Mudenchira's the vivacious host of popular television show Hooray Bollywood on Zee TV. Supplied photo

Dr. Amitha Mudenchira’s the vivacious host of popular television show Hooray Bollywood on Zee TV.
Supplied photo

As an accomplished dancer/singer/actor/writer/television host (Hooray Bollywood) and artist currently conceptualizing a one-of-its-kind television show that will blend the therapeutic uses of arts and connect it to science, Mundenchira admits to finally finding her place under the sun.

“We are all here on the earth for a purpose,” she said. “It’s not about competing with others but finding your spot. After experiencing and enjoying various dance forms, I have come to the realization that medicine is not the only thing I want to do. I want to eventually fuse medicine and arts in some way.

All her artistic endeavours now have an underlying social message, a reason why she’s an integral part of organizations such as Divine Heritage Artistry, Sanskriti Arts Dance + Fitness studio and Limitless Productions.

Once she mastered Bollywood dancing, the Mississauga resident studied hip-hop, jazz and contemporary styles. Then she turned her sight on classical dance and music. Mundenchira remains unfazed by the fact that because of her rather late start in pursuit of dance, she now has to learn the basics of it alongside eight and nine year-olds.

“Ultimately, it’s not about dancing,” she said. “It’s about being myself through dance. I went from a person with low self-esteem who looked at everything negatively to a person who’s always trying to look for something good in every situation. That happened because of the self-enrichment.”

You can follow Mundenchira through her artistic profile.

Dr. Amitha Mundenchira's physical and spiritual transformation came about when she discovered dance. Today, she's an accomplished singer, dancer, TV host, family physician and writer. Supplied photo.

Dr. Amitha Mundenchira’s physical and spiritual transformation came about when she discovered dance. Today, she’s an accomplished singer, dancer, actor, TV host, family physician and writer.
Supplied photo.

Bringing the glitz of Bollywood to Toronto

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Vaibhav Parashar (in the middle) seen here with two of Bollywood's superstars - Priyanka Chopra (left) and Shah Rukh Khan during the Indian International Film Academy Awards (IIFA).

Vaibhav Parashar (in the middle) seen here with two of Bollywood’s superstars – Priyanka Chopra (left) and Shah Rukh Khan during the Indian International Film Academy Awards (IIFA).

For people unaware of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan, aka ‘King Khan,’ is an actor currently perched on the pinnacle of the film industry’s complex food chain.

Here in North America, his movies—even the unimaginative and tepid ones— run to packed houses. An appearance by Khan in your neck of woods will likely create a stampede or frenzy never witnessed before.

So, if you tell a desi anywhere on the earth, you danced with Shah Rukh, Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra and a whole bevy of stars from Bollywood, they will be likely swoon in your presence.

Vaibhav Parashar, 32, a choreographer/ theatre professional living here in the GTA has worked with the virtual Who’s Who of the Indian film industry, but is disinclined to name drop because he doesn’t want to piggy-back ride on their fame. He wants to be his own person. Fair enough.

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Vaibhav Parashar, a GTA dance and theatre professional seen here with well-known Bollywood actress Divya Dutta.

Parashar started his artistic journey as a theatre professional with a premiere   organization— National School of Drama (NSD)— in New Delhi. After working in some 75 plays, he set forth for the glamorous lights of Mumbai aka Bollywood Central and landed in the dance studios of Shiamak Davar, a leading choreographer, under whose tutelage Parashar was able to hone on his dance IQ. For next 10 years, Parashar remained with the school as a dance instructor helping hundreds of South Asians—both in India and across GTA— to connect with the insanely popular Bollywood-style of dance.

At present though, he’s making films that matter plus hoping to capitalize on the insatiable appetite for Bollywood among the desis of the North America through his just-launched event management company—Yaar (friend in Hindi) Entertainment.

“I always try to tell the story—whether it’s dance, choreography or filmmaking — by visualizing it from the audience’s perspective,” he said. “This is something I learned from my guru Shiamak who always taught us to anticipate the reaction of the crowd.”

As a filmmaker/dancer/choreographer/actor and producer, he says he has learned his craft through osmosis. He says he’s equally at home behind the camera, just as he’s on the stage moving to the pulsating rhythm of music.

Having tasted first hand the magic of films, he now wants to wow the audience with a mega Bollywood musical that will incorporate powerful elements of dance and music by weaving it within a story. A genre that’s as comforting to Parashar as water is to a duck.

“My ultimate dream is to create a Bollywood in Canada,” he said. “There’s so much talent here in this country, but unfortunately, most people don’t have the capability to go to India. Through my company, I want to create an extensive database of artists —singers, dancers, musicians and actors — so if someone is looking at anything and anybody to do with the Indian arts, they should be able to find all the resources in a single place.”

Parashar credits his training in theatre for enhancing his artistic intellect. He figures he has a fair idea of what will work in terms of dance and storyline.

“Bollywood connects us to our culture,” Parashar said. “Bollywood teaches Hindi to our kids, it’s teaches them our customs and traditions. In my opinion, Bollywood has assumed the role of a teacher for the younger generation of children living here in Canada.”

After a decade-long successful stint as a dancer/choreographer, Vaibhav Parasher, has taken to a new role as a director, producer and writer. He's one of GTA's rising stars. Supplied photo

After a decade-long successful stint as a dancer/choreographer, Vaibhav Parasher, has taken to a new role as a director, producer and writer. He’s one of GTA’s rising stars.
Supplied photo

Within the next year of two, Parashar vows he will be a well-known name here in Toronto. When it comes to selling dreams of Bollywood, this merchant knows his stuff.