Cultural alchemy: Catching up with Bollywood & Bharatnatyam in Peru


ansari-danceLIMA: Say “My Name is Khan” in the Peruvian capital, and you are going to be feted like a king. It sounds a tad exaggerated, but thousands of miles away, Indian film star Shahrukh Khan is indeed a sort of divinity in this emerging dynamo of Latin American country, which is in love with Bollywood, yoga and Mahatma Gandhi.

This cultural alchemy connecting India to the Latin American region, better known for samba, salsa and soccer, was on display at a power-packed performance of an artful fusion of classical dances in Lima this week.

Dance of Life

Defying barriers of language, Indian dancers enacting a masterly fusion of six classical Indian dances — Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri, Kathakali and Chhau – set the stage on fire at the auditorium of the Ministry of Culture in Lima October 27. The performance triggered a volley of applause, proving the universality of the language of music and dance that bridges continental distances and connects hearts and minds.

Entitled ‘Nrityarupa,’ the fusion performance kicked off the “Festival of India” in Peru, which was inaugurated by India’s Vice-President Hamid Ansari. The vice-president is on a state visit to Peru, the first such high-profile trip from India to this resource-rich country of over 30 million people in one-and-a-half decade.

The ‘Festival of India’ in Peru includes a film festival, a dance festival and a literary festival, and seeks to create a community of creative spirits to nurture relations between the two countries.

B for Bollywood

Bollywood has emerged as a potent cultural ambassador to Peru and the Latin American region. None other than Peru’s Vice-President Mrs Marisol Espinoza is an ardent admirer of Indian films. “I grew up watching Indian films, and Bollywood films are quite popular in my country,” Espionza told www.indiawrites.org in a tete-a-tete. “There is so much potential in the field of business and culture. We should do more in both these spheres,” she told this writer.

Taking the clue, India’s culture ministry has put together a collection of Indian films, which will be shown in Peru as part of the festival of India. The range is as eclectic as it can get — from classics such  as Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harischandra to Raj Kapoor’s enduring monument to teenage romance Bobby to recent blockbusters likle Shahrukh Khan’s Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Naa and Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par, Peruvians are set for a veritable feast of Indian films. For the arty types who are a little wary of Bollywood’s song-and-dance extravaganza, Satyajit Ray’s Ghare-Baire, Govind Nihlani’s Ardh Satya and Neeraj Pande’s A Wednesday are also part of the repertoire.

It’s not just Bollywood that has Peruvians in thrall, but Indian spirituality and yoga have made rapid inroads into the minds and spirits of Peruvians.

Culture Connect

ansari1The people of Peru have a great interest in Indian culture in all its forms — from food to music, yoga and spirituality, to dance and Bollywood, says India’s ambassador to Peru Manpreet Vohra.

Mahatma Gandhi is as well known in this country as Shahrukh Khan – if you telll a cabbie you are from India, he is sure to say something about this non-violent revolutionary.

Kundalini yoga and Indian meditation techniques are quite popular in Peru, Daniel Ugaz Sanchez-Moreno, a lawyer and former adviser to Peru’s Ministry of Culture, told www.indiawrites.org.  Sanchez-Moreno, a great fan of Indian films, says the people of India and Peru have deeper spiritual connections. There are similarities in teachings of Vedas and the belief-systems of Incas, he says. He says there are many yoga schools in Lima and Cusco. This cultural affinity with India in Peru is quite striking as there are barely 300-odd Indians in this country, home to the ancient Incan capital of Cuzco and the lost city of Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world.

But, refreshingly, this fascination with Indian spirituality has not led to the mystification of India and myth-making that proliferated in the West’s images about India in the last century. “Earlier, India was associated in the minds of Peruvians with magic and mysticism. The image of India has changed in Peru. It’s seen a rising power and an emerging economy,” he says.

Juggling the ancient and the modern is perhaps the way to go: instead of just mineral resources, India and Peru should do well to dig deeper into their civilizational underpinnings to forge a modern, multi-faceted relationship that blends culture, commerce and creativity.

(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes, www.indiawrites.org, an online magazine and journal focused on international affairs, the India Story and dialogue among cultures.)

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Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.