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Manoj Bajpai: “After Panditji Who Will Carry The Kathak Legacy Forward?”

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It is a tragic  day for actor Manoj Bajpai when one of his most favourite  artistes passes away.

“I’ve been shooting the entire day . I got to know of  Pandit Birju Maharaj’s death  on the set. I  have  not  had an opportunity to let  myself feel the  full  impact  of  the  tragedy.Now when I’ve packed  up I wonder… who will carry his legacy  forward? In my humble opinion there is  no other Kathak dancer  close to  Panditji’s stature to carry his legacy forward. This was  not the case when we lost a  national treasure like Pandit Ravi Shankar. There were some notable disciples of his  to carry forward Pandit Ravi Shankar’s legacy.”

Manoj feels Pandit Birju Maharaj’s legacy is  threatened with erasure. “You know,  to match his passion for  his craft is impossible. I don’t know of any  Kathak dancer who can equal his passion for  the  dance form.I have known  Panditji closely. And I love Kathak; several Kathak dancers are my friends. When I was at the  National School Of Drama in Dekhi the Kathak institute was  very close to our  building. I  would  often see the dancers on their way in and way out.”

Manoj knew Panditji first-hand. “We have met on several occasions and when he was in Mumbai on a visit he would call me. To meet him,  know him,touch his spirit and passion were  very inspiring for me. I don’t know if I can ever equal his passion for my craft. I know I’m fully devoted  to my  acting. That is why I’ve survived  in the business for so long. You have  to be  fully honest to your calling.  Neither Panditji nor I  came  into  our  craft  for money or other  extraneous  consideration.We were in it because we love what we do.And it shows in our performance.Not that I am comparing  myself  to him. He was a class part.A masterclass  in discipline  dedication and passion. Also very inspiring for  his  humility and passion.”

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Manoj feels the  classical arts in India are a dying culture. “Where are the patrons  of the arts? And without  the  patrons how can artistes flourish? Panditji’s death  signals  a wider  tragedy. Of losing our cultural heritage.After Ustad Bismillah Khan where were the Shehnai players  of stature? After  Pandit Birju Maharaj I see a  similar vacuum.In playback singing Lataji is  the  ultimate among greats. And I am  frightened.”