Saturday, September 28, 2013

Remembering the Late Tara Chaudhri

I received the sad news this week that Tara Chaudhri passed away peacefully last weekend in Karachi, Pakistan. Back in March, I had featured two rare videos of Tara—one of her performing Bharatanatyam as part of the 1954 Indian Cultural Delegation to the U.S.S.R., Poland, and Czechoslovakia, and a second of her classically-inspired dance in the 1948 Tamil film Vedhala Ulagam. At the end of the post, I reviewed the small bits I had learned about her life from various books and online sources.

Since that post, I have tried to find a little more information about Tara. Given the news of her passing I thought this would be a nice time to feature it and celebrate Tara's life. In brief discussion with a niece of Tara and with Ashish Mohan Khokar, I learned that the correct spelling of Tara's last name is Chaudhri, and her family origins were in Punjab of Rajput descent. Tara was based in Lahore, and her sister Rani, who also learnt Kathak of the Punjab Gharana, was popular at that time. Coincidentally, Rani was once the love interest of dance scholar Mohan Khokar whose learning of dance to win Rani's unrequited affections left him with a love of dance for life.

But the biggest find about Tara was the 1949 article "Pavlova of the Punjab" (select "I agree" to view) from The Straits Times archived at one of my favorite resources for finding rare
articles on Indian dancers of the past, NewspaperSG. The article gushes heaps of praise on Tara's dance abilities starting from the title's perhaps hyperbolic comparison of her to legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova! But most valuable of all is the timeline it gives of Tara's activities, dance forms, and locations—here are some excerpts:
“ 'Tara Chaudhri is, perhaps, even greater than Russia’s Anna Pavlova. Her sense of time and rhythm is perfect and her wonderful mastery of the various styles of Indian dancing puts her in a class by herself.' So observed the poet Vallathol, one of the foremost exponents of South Indian dancing, speaking about Tara Chaudhri and her art. Dark-eyed, fair and graceful of figure, Tara today is one of the foremost Indian classical dancers. 
Popularly known as the “Pavlova of the Punjab”, she has succeeded in winning the applause of both the connoisseur and the common man for her versatility and the glamour she infuses into her classical pieces. Her dances have an appeal both to the senses and the soul. Though she has modified the ancient styles to suit the requirements of the modern stage and audiences. Tara has not allowed either their cultural and traditional spirit, or their technique, to be compromised.
Tara Chaudhri was the “discovery” of her brother, A.R. Chaudhry, himself an accomplished dancer, a scholar and an art critic. Spotting her talents, he initiated Tara into the study of classical dancing at Lahore. Throughout her academic career in Lahore she gave many dance performances in schools and colleges. From the courtyards of these institutions to footlights of India’s leading stages, Tara danced her way up with steady steps.
After studying the north Indian styles of dancing—the “Kathak” and “Manipuri” (of Assam)—she went south in 1943 for advanced studies of South India’s ancient dance forms, the Bharata Natya and “Kathakali” (of Malabar) the initial training for which she had had from her brother-tutor. At the famous “Kerala Kalamandalam” (at Shoranur, in Cochin State), she mastered the “Kathakali” style of [unreadable]. She learnt the charming gesture language of “Bharata Natya” in the well-known Tanjore School. In 1946 she undertook an extensive tour of India and Ceylon as the partner of Ram Gopal. 
[...] During her recent performance specially arranged for the delegates to the Conference on Indonesia, at New Delhi, some of her own creations were highly appreciated. [...] One of Tara’s ambitions is to see the establishment of a Dance University in India, for the study and propagation of Indian classical and folk dancing in all its various forms. Such a university, she feels, will attract students of dancing not only from all over India but from all over the world.”
I also found quite a few mentions of Tara by eminent dancers/writers in various books and articles. In Sunil Kothari's books on Bharatanatyam and Kathak, he remembers Tara by name as a "renowned dancer" among others—like Ram Gopal, Shanta Rao, Rukmini Devi, and Mrinalini Sarabhai who trained in Bharatanatyam under the famous nattuvanar Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai; and like Kumudini Lakhia who trained in Kathak under Ashiq Hussain Khan in Punjab. V.A.K Ranga Rao is his article "Dance in Indian Cinema" listed Tara among the notable dancers who left "images of themselves in their shining youth" in cinema. But other than the Singapore newspaper article above, I've not found anymore than a brief mention of her in all my readings so far. I wonder why that is the case—perhaps she gave up dance after some time?

I would also love to know more about Tara's involvement with the dance scene in Pakistan in those times. Madame Azurie was another dancer of the period in Pakistan who also danced in films—Richard featured her in a blog post recently—and I wonder if she ever crossed paths professionally with Tara. And the subject of dance in Pakistan is begging for further research!

Last, in addition to this photo at the Encyclopaedia Brittanica online, here are some additional photos of Tara I was able to find.  The first two feature her with Ram Gopal. The one on the left is taken from Gopal's book Indian Dancing, and, curiously, he doesn't identify her—the caption only says "Ram Gopal as Shiva and a former pupil and partner as Parvati...".

 

"Tara Chaudri posing before the temple of Somnatpur, Mysore" (source)

2 comments:

  1. Sad to hear this! More sadly, no one in the current dance generation remembers her.

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  2. Sad news.

    The text and the links provide a mine of interesting facts about Tara Chaudhri. Before reading your post, I did not know anything about her.

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