I got to meet him recently in the Raffles Hotel. He was in Singapore to participate in a dance festival and my journalist friend Deepika was meeting him with regard to an interview for her TV channel (see them both in the photo).
Padamshri Astad Deboo, despite his achivements and international fame, came across as an extremely modest man, gentle, obliging, and adept at Urdu, my mother tongue. We did most of our conversation in Urdu, and he was kind enough to regale us with his stories--how he hitchhiked for eight years across different countries learning dance, his experience with Bollywood filmmakers, etcetera. Subsequently, I met him again to interview him. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
On Indian dance and where it is going
The traditions of the Indian classical dance are still very much vibrant. What's happening in the Indian classical dance scenario now is that a lot of Indian classical dancers are wanting to do contemporary work. Now it is not easy to do contemporary dance but then again people think that if you don't take the stories of Ramayana and Mahabhrata and do something, it becomes contemporary. Also, sometimes they think that by adding music also but just doing the traditional style makes it a contemporary item. It does not work. Bollywood dancing has taken over which is good in one way but it is not the end all. Even in India, you'll see parents pushing their young kids (for various dance-based TV shows) but I don't think kids from the age of six and eight onwards should be learning to gyrate their hips. There is a time and place for everything. You see many television shows where young kids dance (Bollywood kind of dance)--I find it in poor taste. The choreographers behind the show justify it by saying that dance is for everyone but thing is that there is dance and dance and dance.On choreographing for Hindi films
I have choreographed only three films: Sanjay Khan's Abdullah in 1980s, M F Hussian's Meenaxi--A Tale of Three Cities and a promotional music video for Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara. Again, the choreography was very special, the kind of stuff I do. I wasn't doing the jhatka routines and they weren't very masala films--these were mostly art related films. It worked both ways--both from mine and the director's perspectives and it worked well together. Off and on I keep getting queries from Bollywood directors but things don't work out because one, the focus of my work is not Bollywood and two, there are scheduling issues as I work a year and a half ahead in time.
On the future of dance
In the West, the choreographers there have resources available to them. Also, their audiences have reached a certain level--they have seen so much. So, they always want to be titillated. So, their creators try out new things--right now video is very fashionable--projections, multimedia, and so on. So, there are trends that keep catching on. Certain choreographers have brought in the disabled into their performing arts and worked things around them. There are revivals of taking old stories and giving them new interpretations, through new settings. I mean, dance would be there. But in India, the dance seen on stages, the performance scenario, is getting less and less--sponsorships, people's interests, and trends have changed. The audience too, both in India and in the West, has a lesser attention span. They are not willing to sit through an hour plus performance unless it is some hot shot performer. So, one would hope that there is a future for dance.