French danseuse uses Odissi mudras to create awareness (Orissa Post)

“Her husband Avishai Leger-Tanger is a digital artist. He is the one who has developed a few projects to make unacquainted audiences understand Odissi using new technologies.”

At a time when celebrities across the globe appeal to their fans to follow the guidelines issued by the government agencies, Mahina Khanum comes up with a few dance steps to sensitise the people

Bhubaneswar: Coronavirus is sweeping the world at the moment and not discriminating between the rich, poor or famous. Starting from Tom Hanks, NBA star Rudy Gobert to Prince Charles of Wales, people across the spectrums have fallen ill and the fresh addition to the list is United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson. No wonder, top actors, athletes and politicians have been sensitising people to curb the spread of the disease. Latest to join the drive is Mahina Khanum, an Odissi exponent from France. She recently took to social media to share a video clip raising awareness on COVID-19. She has used several dance steps of Odissi, a classical dance form to make people aware on several barrier gestures, a term used to explain the measures one should take to reduce the risk of infection. The video is gradually gaining traction in social media whereas other celebrities are also sharing her unique initiative.

The acclaimed dancer tells Orissa POST on what made her think that Odissi can also be used to sensitise people about the deadly virus.

“Like others we too were in shock after learning about the lockdown in France. However, we had been following the barrier gestures like frequent washing of hands, using disposable hankie and sneezing into the elbows for some time before the enforcement of lockdown. Later, I came to know that many of us were not complying with the guidelines issued by World Health Organization and various government agencies. This made me think to use the mudras to sensitise people. In Indian classical dance, a mudra or gesture is all about conveying certain feelings to the audience. Therefore, I thought I should put these mudras into good use and for the welfare of the people,” narrates Mahina.

She further explained: “Mudras are an endless means of expressions. They have been passed on to us from since decades and they are still so relevant. Mudra means “seal” in Sanskrit and they literally leave a lasting impression in the mind of the viewers. They are real languages, having different registers. They can be symbolic and at times literal also. But the mudras have a universal appeal. That’s what we wanted to express in this video.”

A few weeks back, Mahina, when in Mumbai, had composed some beats with popular instrumentalists Vijay Tambe (composer and flutist), Ramprasad Gannavarapu (mardala) and Aparna Deodhar (sitar) and the team decided to use the music in this video. Needless to say, it struck an immediate chord with the public.

Asked about her motivation, she says, “Being locked down, we couldn’t have done anything than dance. Then, we thought of speaking something positive in such grim scenario. We adapted traditional hand gestures from Odissi and used the tone of Sakhi, also a traditional character which is part of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda to convey the message.”

Mahina, a trained ballet from the age of three, learnt Odissi from Guru Shankar Behera (Mumbai) when she was 13. Later, she was honoured with a scholarship from ICCR in India and the French government to continue her training with Guru Madhavi Mudgal in Gandharva Mahavidyalaya (Delhi).

Mahina who has visited Odisha on several occasions, says, “I had been to Bhubaneswar for the first time in 2002 and then continued visit every year. I mostly visit during celebration of Mahashivaratri.”

Her husband is a digital artist and had no idea about Odissi before the two met a few years back. But once he came to know about this dance form, he developed a passion for it.

“He is the one who has developed a few projects to make unacquainted audience understand Odissi using new technologies,” she says.

Talking about the COVID-19 outbreak in France, Mahina says the lockdown was first enforced for two weeks beginning March 16. But later, it was extended for two more weeks. The situation is extremely scary now with number of affected and casualities growing every day. France recently mourned the death of a 14-year-old girl, she adds.

Appreciating the measures taken by Odisha government, the danseuse says, “Odisha is known across the world for handling natural calamities well. Cyclone Fani that hit the Odisha coast last year is a case in point. I am sure the government can handle this situation efficiently.”

Mahina hopes that the world would soon overcome this problem and people will come out stronger from the crisis.