Dynamic, pulsating Dubai loves its music, arts and concerts but only if it comes with the ‘star’ or celebrity tag. That’s Jogiraj Sikidar’s experience ever since he tried setting up a centre to promote Indian classical music and culture with local talent. The going was tough but that didn’t deter him from establishing Malhaar Centre for Performing Arts, arguably the only institute of its kind that organises original performances, trains students and adults in Hindustani classical music and promotes the cause of culture with a fervour that is rare in this city.
Jogiraj’s own musical odyssey began at the age of four in Assam when he started training under stalwarts like Pt. Mani Prasad, Smt Kankana Banerjee, Smt Shikha Ganguly and Prof. Rita Ganguly. However his biggest passion continues to be directing and producing Indian Broadway style musicals through Malhaar, a feat he has achieved a number of times with some stunning productions. Today, Jogiraj’s Malhaar has become the go-to centre for Indians who want to connect to their roots through music.
Recently, his hard work and dedication paid off when he won the Times Now NRI of the Year Award in the arts and culture category (the awards instituted by the English news channel), in a glittering ceremony in Mumbai along with achievers from other sectors. He was honoured for his contribution to taking Indian arts and culture to a global arena and needless to say, he is thrilled about it. In a candid chat with Masala.com, Jogiraj, a media professional, talks about the challenges of promoting local talent in a star-obsessed city and his future plans.
Congratulations on the award. How and when did you know you had won?
Thank you so much. About a month back I received a call from the Times Now Awards Committee official, who informed me that I had won the NRI of the Year award 2018 in the Art & Culture category. Later they sent all the details.
This award is a recognition for the work you have put in the field of art and culture. How receptive would you say is Dubai to initiatives in Indian music and dance?
Dubai is a vibrant city with so much happening in the file of art & culture. However when it comes to Indian classical performing arts especially in music and dance, it has a long way to go. Though there are many live events driven by Indian celebrities, there is limited scope for those working with local talent and community. Malhaar is committed to work in that area and make Indian performing arts more inclusive.
What were the biggest challenges of setting up Malhar then and what challenges do you face now?
There is no fun in life if there are no challenges. We faced a lot of challenges while setting up Malhaar Centre for Performing Arts. It was not easy. The biggest challenge was managing the financial aspect. One of Malhaar's founders, Kruti Shah, a dear friend Amin Rajwani and I pooled our savings to start the institute. I'm truly grateful to Kruti and Amin who came forward to help me both financially and strategically. Without them, it wouldn't have been possible to start and continue Malhaar Centre for Performing Arts.
How does the award change things for Malhaar?
Malhaar has hit the perfect note with the Times Now NRI of the Year Award. This award recognises the belief, hard work and dedication of Team Malhaar and the 200-plus UAE-based artists who have been working hard for more than a decade now. This is a very special award especially since this is a recognition from my home country, even though the work that I am doing is beyond the Indian shorelines.
Jogiraj Sikidar with the other awardees
Tell us more about your experience at the awards. Who did you meet and was there any interaction that you were impressed by?
The experience was extremely humbling. There were a total of 11,500 nominees across the world for this edition of the awards. The award night was star studded with Bollywood stars, sports personalities, politicians and corporate honchos. It was wonderful to meet the fellow winners and listen to their stories. All the stories were so inspiring.
What are your future plans for Malhaar? Is there any show in the pipeline?
The world has recognised the importance of Indian art and culture. Yoga has already made its mark on the global stage. However, for the Indian classical arts, there is a long way to go. Team Malhaar dreams of making Indian classical performing arts a global phenomenon, whereby training in Indian performing arts will be both inclusive and accessible for the masses, across the world through Malhaar. We have also partnered with GEMS Heritage Indian school, Dubai and training the students in Indian classical arts as a part of their compulsory curriculum. We would like to create a huge pool of talent in the UAE through this unique partnership. Malhaar is working on two big productions and plans to stage them in 2019.