By Mehru Jaffer
Lily,57 and Farah,12 both admit that they thought there was little else to Indian culture except for the very vivacious dances witnessed in Indian films.
Like a lot of people around the world they were mesmerised watching the luscious limbs of Indian film stars rock-and-a- roll effortlessly, to music so melodic that it often brought tears to the eyes. All the singing and dancing looks so colourful and energetic that many are inspired to dance like the beautiful film stars they see on screen.
Giva,15 is a self confessed addict of Indian films. Her favourite star is Aishwarya Rai, the light eyed, pale complexioned former Miss World turned actress. Giva has been watching Indian films on television ever since she can remember. A few months ago she heard about the Jawaharlal Nehru Indian Cultural Center (JNICC) and enrolled in the dance class. She was happy at the thought that soon she will be swinging the hips and shaking her shoulders like her favourite actress.
But her teacher Nandini Sinha, a professional Kathak dancer is making her go through a rigorous exercise in the classical dance style of North India. Giva was puzzled at first but is gradually beginning to enjoy the lessons. Lily, a teacher of various Indonesian dances wanted to add Indian dance to her repertoire. In the bargain she also discovered the library at the JNICC with over 14,000 titles. Interested in Indian philosophy as well she finds that her time here is well spent.
Farah was only seven years old when her mother brought her to JNICC. Not yet a teenager, she is still determined to dance her way through life. AI want to be a professional Kathak dancer,@ she told The Sunday Post. She continues to enjoy Indian cinema but after five years of lessons in the art of Kathak she is aware of the difference between pop, and the classical dances of India.
As an exponent and teacher of Kathak it does not embarrass Nandini that Indian films are synonymous today with Indian culture. It is not just Indonesians but many Indians living abroad also want to see their children dance like Indian film stars. Films are very much a part of Indian culture but to think that it is the only culture that exists in the country is just not true, says Nandini who feels that all commercial art have always enjoyed a far wider appeal.
AWhat we have to do is to make sure that classical arts continue to be performed and are constantly in communication with contemporary audiences. The idea is not to compete with pop art but to prevent all that is traditional from being completely over shadowed by the glamour of instance entertainment,@ she says.
Nunung Y Wardiman, a jazz musician went to India six years ago. That is when she saw a live performance of Indian classical dance for the first time. When she returned to Jakarta she joined the JNICC in 1998 to learn dance movements. At some stage she hopes to organise a fusion performance along with Nandini who is also a vocalist. Ayu Utami, celebrated novelist started learning the tabla or Indian drums here and continues to take lessons in Indian vocal music.
As she waits to start classes at a fashion school Cid,15 comes to the JNICC along with her mother to learn some dancing. This is one way Cid gets her very busy mother to spend time with her while it also makes her feel close to her Indian friend who does not live in Jakarta anymore.
Seldom is a taxi driver found in Jakarta who is not eager to talk about Indian films once he has made sure that the passenger is Indian.
But there was a time when the culture that India exported was spiritually far more radiant. The Ramayana was rivalled only by the Mahabharata, another epic to travel into the heart and soul of many societies even beyond Asia. Although of Indian origin, it is the universal values of valour, beauty and bravery that make the epics from pre-historic times transcend all geographical barrier and also racial and religious ones and to keep audiences charmed to this day from Myanmar to Mongolia. Hindu and Buddhist philosophies too have remained in demand for over 2000 years not just in Indonesia but in the entire region known today as the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN).
A few years ago ASEAN even brought together artists from different member countries to stage Realising Rama, a contemporary dance project based on the Ramayana stories. Rodolfo C.Severino, ASEAN secretary general encouraged the effort in the hope that it would foster a spirit of kinship and deepen awareness of a shared cultural heritage and identity.
But compared to the popularity of films, few are aware of Realising Rama, a unique production that has a musical score composed by Indonesian musicologist Rahayu Supanggah while Bayu Utomo Radjikin, a graduate from Malaysia=s Institute of Technology has designed a set influenced greatly by the Wayang Kulit. Both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata remain the main source of the dramatic repertoire of most Wayang Kulit performances in the ASEAN region.
It is precisely to create this kind of cultural exchange amongst people that the JNICC was opened here in 1989, making it the only institution of its kind in the ASEAN region. It started with four teachers giving lessons in music, dance and yoga. Today there are 132 students in the dance class alone and another 200 learn yoga, the ancient art of union with one=s self. Scholarships are also given by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations for further studies in India when students are able to find out for themselves that there is much more to Indian culture than just singing in the rain.
For further information call the JNICC at 3155120 or visit at Jalan Imambonjol 32, central Jakarta