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Rani Karna: Life long affair with Kathak
"Dance is an integral part of my life," proclaims Rani. Coming from a family of Amirs, an educated family of lawyers and judges, she was the only one to take up dance. "As a child, I had a fancy for ghungroos," says Rani.

“KATHAK IS my first love,” says Rani Karna, a Kathak exponent who runs Samskritiki Shreyaskar in Kolkata and Bhubaneshwar, where several young dancers are nurtured under her guidance. Rani Karna started learning dance in 1944. “Dance is an integral part of my life,” proclaims Rani. Coming from a family of Amirs, an educated family of lawyers and judges, she was the only one to take up dance. “As a child, I had a fancy for ghungroos,” she said.

But Kathak was not the first art form she learned. She started learning how to play the sitar, and then she learnt Manipuri, Bharatanatyam and Kathak. Trained by veterans like Nritya Charan Narayan Prasad, Pt Sunder Prasad and Birju Maharaj, she believes in passing on her legacy to the young dancers today.

A graduate from Hindu College in B Sc, Rani initially wanted to become a doctor. She was very active as a student. “There were hardly any festivals in which I did not participate. I took part in the inter college cultural events and always won the competition. Rani, was the star of Hindu College.” she beams. As a child dancer she has also performed at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. “I have also performed in front of Queen Elizabeth II and was the youngest dancer in the troupe,” says a proud Rani Karna.

After completing her graduation, she got a dance scholarship for three years. This was when she started mastering Kathak under the Jaipur Gharana. 1961 onwards she started travelling abroad to perform in different countries. In 1961, she went to Pakistan, where she performed at the Indian High Commission in Karachi. In the same year she gave a performance in Afghanistan at King Zahiq Shah’s palace on the occasion of their Independence Day. She performed there as a cultural delegate representing the country. The group included great artists like Rasoolan Bai and Ustad Karamatullah Khan. Later she also performed in Laos, Burma, Japan, USSR and in 1974-75 in France and England.

Kathak has got her a lot of honours like the Vice President’s Gold Medal in 1954, awarded by Shankar’s Weekly, “Order of the Queen” bestowed by Her Majesty, the Queen of Laos in 1964, Sangeet Varidhi by Sangeet Kala Kendra in 1977, the Vijaya Ratna by India International Friendship Society, New Delhi in 1990.

“Earlier dance had connotations with 'nach'. As society has become more progressive these notions have changed for good. I was fortunate enough to train under great maestros who had a very positive feeling about me,” explains Rani Karna. She also shares credit for her success with her husband, Nayak, whose constant support helped her pursue dance even after marriage.

The establishment of Samakritiki Shreyaskar in Calcutta in 1995, was a major achievement in her life. The aim of the academy is to study, teach, cultivate demonstrate and develop the performing arts in general and Kathak in particular. The repertoire comprises of a range of productions exhibiting the richness and flexibility of the Kathak form.

Some of the productions are; Satrang, Hori Khela , ShivShakti, Meghdoot, Venu Naad, Khoi Nadi and Tasher Desh. Her latest production is SURYA. She is travelling with her troupe, performing SURYA in different parts of the country. In 2005, the academy launched the Samakritiki Shreyaskar Orissa Chapter taking Kathak training to the heart land of Odissi.

Talking about her routine, she says, “My routine now is quite different from what it used to be. Earlier I used to do riyaz for more than four hours everyday. But now I have to take care of the administration of my academy. I am more involved in planning for my group.” She prefers spending more time on research and teaching her students.

Rani is however unhappy with the contemporary trends in dancing. “The current trends in Indian dancing are disheartening and disturbing. The use of fusion is responsible for this. The purity of dance is being harmed,” she complains.

However, at the same time she feels that on a positive side, some youngsters have taken bold steps and have come up with different themes. “Their effort is commendable and inspiring. My own students keep improvising on different themes,” she explains.

The veteran dancer is very optimistic about the youngsters. “They are very bright and independent. They have a high IQ level and come up with new ideas. However they need the correct guidance. Just like any other art form even dance is commercialised today. They have to be careful while dealing with this very pure art form,” said a concerned Rani.

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