Dandy dandiya queen

Falguni Pathak and Sankalp plan to give Mumbai a Dandiya blast starting October 17, ‘It wasn’t as if relations between Sankalp and me had broken down irrevocably. We really get along very well.’

BY Ritu Joshi

She's back. Every year around this time, like the proverbial phoenix Falguni Pathak resurfaces on the Mumbai scene. For 10 days during the Navratri season, which begins this year on October 17, the dandiya queen reigns supreme. Belting out vocals which drive 10,000 of the city's most privileged revellers insane in a dance frenzy. And then she disconnects her mike and disappears where she came from.

Ask her about it and she will deny it flatly. She will tell you that she's busy doing stage shows all over the world and working on her Indipop albums. But it's been a year since her last album Meri Chunnar Ud Ud Jaye came out and we have not heard from her since. Maybe one or two eminently forgettable songs in the interim but nowhere near the frenzy of Maine Payal Jo Jhankayi a year-and-a-half ago.

Wait a minute! The good news, for dandiya fans, is that Ms Pathak is back with her all-time favourite group Sankalp, after last year's estrangement which saw her defect to the Zee-sponsored dandiya at the massive NSE grounds at Goregaon. And for Falguni it's like a homecoming, spending as she has, at least seven dandiya seasons with the group which nurtured her talent from the start. "It's just like that last year things didn't work out with Sankalp and so I did Navratri with Zee instead," says the singer matter-of-factly. "It wasn't as if relations between Sankalp and me had broken down irrevocably. We really get along very well," she adds.

Rehearsing at a Ghatkopar auditorium, Falguni is wearing white trousers with a blue kurta and had a black waistcoat for that added effect. She's not flashy, has never been and admits to being to being most happy in a jeans and T-shirt. That's the way her group, Tha-Thaiyya, has always seen her. However, last year's at Zee sponsored dandiya, for a change, saw a top-notch designer hired for the lady and there were 10 different looks for as many days. And she came out looking savvy and sounding even better. If looks could improve performance they certainly helped her out.

Entering the auditorium you hear the unmistakable voice of Falguni Pathak practising and preparing well in advance. Nothing is left to chance and each day's schedule for the festival is carefully worked out with only marginal room for improvisation. Practice which begins at least a fortnight before Navratri is from 10.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. with very few breaks in between.

Falguni always starts every dandiya session with Pari Hoon Main which happens to be her eternal favourite, even after all these years. Despite the fact that the latest film songs are generously interspersed in her oeuvre, the singer strenuously denies that what she churns out is 'disco dandiya'. "More emphasis is given to Indian traditional songs and folk music," she says. "Though I will sing songs from my latest album, we have introduced two new instruments, this year, the Nasik dhol and dhakla, which will stress the folk effect in the songs."

The practice starts with slow numbers and then moves onto the faster tracks. With her co-singers Hemangini Pandit, Nilesh Thakker and Sanjay Sawant, Falguni goes through the motions like a pro and we can only watch respectfully from a distance. Whenever there's a mistake Falu (as she is affectionately called by her band) emits a whistle on the mike which is a signal for the group to stop and restart all over again. But all mistakes are tackled with a cool head and a smile. We discover that Falguni is not only a good singer but also a good leader as well handling every error with patience.

She's modest too, and will not admit that she's anywhere at the top of her profession. "That's for the people and my fans to decide. I am a human like them and it seems to me that they are as good as I am." says the lady with a shy smile on her face. No wonder her fans love her the way they do!

This year Sankalp will forgo its traditional venues of the NSE Grounds and JVPD schemes and settle for the SRPF (police) grounds instead. The huge premises of which provide adequate facilities (car parking for 5000 vehicles) and supposedly more safety for participants. Says organiser Devendra Joshi, President of Sankalp, "Like every year, this year too Falguni will have an astonishing entry with big celebrities in attendance and this time we will spring a surprise on the crowd." The organiser admits that last year, without Falguni, was not too good for Sankalp: "It was a completely different experience for us last year to deal with singers like Sunidhi Chavan, Daler Mehendi when we're used to having Falguni. Though we had film stars like Hrithik Roshan, Raveena Tandon and many others turning up, without Falguni the attendance was very thin," he says.

Meanwhile in the Ghatkopar auditorium Falguni whistles again, but this time it's for tea break. They've been practising continuously for the last three hours and now the lead singer says "Abhi bas, baki chai ke baad." During this time Falguni sips on a 'kadak' chai and chats with her drummers and orchestra members consulting them regarding the beats and melodies. It is an atmosphere of work and fun.

Says Devendra Joshi, "Falguni was my first choice and nobody can beat her. I always say that she is an investment with multiplying value. Every year she grows better and better. Sankalp with Falguni has converted Navratri, into a glamourous, fun-filled affair." At which point Falguni turns around with a smile on her face and we can't help but nod our heads in agreement.