One of the aspects of being a blogger from India is that you will inevitably get many phone calls from readers and many of them not necessarily be knowing the subject matter with which to converse with you. I have received calls from readers who actually wanted to install an electric crematorium in their village in some remote corner of Bangladesh and after reading my blog on Christian Gas Crematorium of Calcutta they assumed me to be a gas crematorium supplier. The best would be people mistaking me as a food truck manufacturer after reading my blog on food trucks in the city. I am assuming that they don’t read the blog in full and just after reading the name of the blog they search for my contact details to get in touch with me.
The same however has actually been very productive for my blog on Lion Dance and on Graffiti in the city. In both cases, I have been able to help the person whom I had written the blog get some contracts which in return has made me get very close to them and thus a different bond of friendship have developed over the years.
I still remember the day I got a call from BBC Worldwide Entertainment on behalf of Colors TV for a reality show named India Banega Manch. This television show will involve multiple cities where some teams will perform cultural activities from the city and depending on the response of the audience the teams will be voted to the next level. For my city of Kolkata, the television channel wanted Lion Dance team to perform during their auditions in Kolkata. Apparently, they had read my blog and wanted to feature them for my city since Kolkata is having such a diversity of culture Lion Dance will fit perfectly.
Honestly, I never knew the magnanimity of this reality television show but as the promos started filling the airwaves I knew this was big. I got a confirmation from James Liao that the producers had got in touch with them with the contact that I had provided and they were indeed participating. I frequent the new China Town section of the city which many of you may be knowing as Tangra to document the various aspects of the local Chinese community. During these trips, I always manage to check on James during his practise sessions.
Usually, on weekends, James would be teaching a bunch of teenagers the art of Lion Dance. This is a very old traditional art from which has movements that resemble Kung Fu and require a lot of practice and most importantly a sense of discipline.
I have been following James and his crew and what may surprise you is that the guys jumping around in the lion costume are not Chinese but young boys mostly from the suburbs of the city. The passion for Lion Dance and Martial Arts has made these young boys mostly from weak economic backgrounds to come together every weekend and lock themselves in an old unused tannery and practise Lion Dance on poles for hours.
Considering the heat and humidity of Kolkata it’s not very easy wearing that heavy costume and jumping on poles. The lion which consists of two members one playing the head and the other the body and the tail need to be in sync throughout the dance routine. The one wearing the head has very limited vision and the one in the back cannot absolute see anything. It’s just by the cue of the drum beats they go through their choreographed routine.
The monkey which forms an essential part of the choreography also needs to have very high acrobatic skills as he needs to mimic the movements of a monkey on poles, often hanging from dangerous positions.
I have been to around five or six practise sessions and I know how hard this team had worked for their performance. Sweating out in the heat they would keep rehearsing the moves until it would flow to them like a rhythm. James would constantly train them to perfect the moves and not to just play a part. The audience will never know the mistakes but it is important that the individual is truthful to themselves first and correct their mistakes to make this Lion Dance not just a dance routine but a well-disciplined martial art is what James would keep telling his students.
I knew the date of the shoot and was there at New Market to cheer up the team and I knew what they were going through. The temperature was nearly 36 Celsius and under the raw burning sun, it felt like 50 Celsius. Despite this, the team performed remarkably well even though they fell twice but they proved that the race needs to be finished and not left. Lion head played by Amit Kumar and accompanying him in the tail was Ajay Yadev, the energetic monkey was Shane Khan and the cymbal team included Amir Khan, Spencer Lee, Roshan Chettri, Roshan Kumar, Gourav Yadev and Vishal Choudary with the gong being played by Rohit Modi.
Watch James and His Team Practice For The Finale
James Liao and his team have been trying to make Chinese Lion Dance popular in India and if things go according to plan then will form a team which will represent the International Lion Dance competition representing India in Malaysia. For that, he is trying his best to teach the students and also to get necessary funds for the trip. Wishing James all the very best and keep doing what your heart says.
To watch the full episode of Indian Banega Manch Kolkata click here.
Read Similar Blogs
Click here to read my original post on Lion Dancers from Kolkata
Click here to read about the annual Lion Dance show in Kolkata