Born in India to a Sikh family, Joshinder Chaggar was brought up in Lagos, Nigeria and Geelong in Australia. She spent her childhood mastering the Indian classical dance styles of Kathak and Bharatanatyam. Popularly known as Josh, this renowned choreographer has been acting for quite some time but dance is something she’s always been noticed for. Dance is the way in which Joshinder chooses to express her emotions about what is happening around her. Joshinder advocates that we all have a madness that rages inside us but we seldom talk about it.
After her various stints and dance training across the globe, Joshinder settled down in Karachi, Pakistan in 2007. Ink Magazine got a chance to interview Joshinder before her upcoming performance “A Love Letter to Karachi” which she says is “a story, an idea explored purely through movement, with perhaps a monologue or two.”
The show has been co-directed by National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) alumnus Sunil Shankar.
1. Tell us about how you chose to become a performing artist and its importance in your life.
Well, as a teenager I loved dancing and was literally consumed with it. But coming from a traditional family, I didn’t think of taking it up as a profession. But in my early 20’s I soon realized that there is nothing else that I love more. And if I do anything else, then I’ll end up leading a very mediocre and unhappy life. But there was a lot of confusion in my head. I didn’t personally know any artists, from any field. I knew that my soul was an artist, but how do artists earn a living, what do they actually do, I really had no idea. I was a chronic day-dreamer, a little cut off from my every day world, so instead of actively trying to solve this issue, I just pondered on it endlessly inside my head. And then there was literally no support from family, and a lot of pressure to not be a dancer. So those were tough times. But I really do believe that we are born with certain ‘souls’, and I have been gifted the soul of dance. So if I go against my nature, it will always cause me conflict. I tried many professions, and in the end I surrendered and followed my heart.
2. Where have you trained?
My childhood was in Lagos, Nigeria. I started learning Bharatnatyam there at this fantastic academy when I was five. After migrating to Australia, I took dance as a subject in school. I later continued my Bharatnatyam training in Melbourne, at the Bharatalaya Dance Academy. I also studied Modern Contemporary Dance at Deakin University in Melbourne. Later, after moving to Sydney I worked with Melange Dance company, where I trained in Afro-cuban, Dance Hall and Samba. The training continues still today. One of my most pivotal moments of learning was recently. I trained under the German choreographer Brigel Gjoka in 2015, for the Dance production ‘Among Fog’, at the NAPA International festival. That was eight hours a day, every day for a month, and it was absolute bliss.
3. When, how and why did you move to Pakistan?
I came to Karachi in 2007, to explore the media boom that was happening at the time. It was perhaps a naive decision at the time, but I was filled with a sense of adventure. I had honestly also thought I would just come for a year, and then go back to Australia. But I found myself flooded with work straight away, and I instantly met the loveliest of people, and it’s just been non-stop since then.
There is a collective energy in the city, of young artists & musicians & actors & writers. It’s a real priviledge and blessing to be part of this energy. To know so many budding & established artists, to collaborate constantly with different people.
It really does feel so exciting to personally know so many of these budding & established artists and to be collaborating with them.
4. Do you think Pakistan has the scope to absorb artists like yourself and what has your experience been here so far?
Well, I’ve always felt very welcome. The work I do is very different, and so perhaps there is a limited market for it. But it really keeps me on my toes. End of the day, since I am a creative artist, I can’t help but constantly create. It’s my intrinsic nature. And since I am also a performing artist, I have a deep yearning to perform. So if there is no work, I just have to keep creating it. And I feel that is one of the reasons why I have actually evolved and grown tremendously since coming to Karachi in 2007. For example, in 2014, I created a solo dance performance called ‘She Flies with the Swallows’. This is a twenty minute piece, and there is NO music. So I am dancing in silence. And since 2014, I have been performing it at schools, universities, festivals, art exhibitions. Since it is in silence, I have also performed it at all the Deaf schools, and also at Pannah, the women’s shelter home. The show came about as a creative solution to be performing all the time, anywhere & everywhere, and sharing my art, and then also engaging in the discussion about ‘What does it really mean to be free?’
5. What most do you like about living in Karachi and what most do you miss about living in Melbourne?
I discovered theatre here in Karachi. Of course I watched lots of theatre in Melbourne, all the big productions like Lion King etc. But here I got inside its skin, and I really fell in love with the world of theatre. I’m a true fanatic. I can watch the same play four or five times. Sometimes it’s the script that I love, or sometimes it’s a particular actor’s work, or sometimes it’s just the idea, the thought of the creator that fascinates me. So yes, theatre, and all the people I have met in the ‘theatre world’ is what I love the most about Karachi.
Melbourne, well I miss the obvious things – walking on the road. But mainly people, close friends.
6. Aitebar, More Piya, Moor, Conversations – tell us about these.
Aitebar has a very very special place in my heart. I’ll always be grateful that we all made this beautiful piece of art, and it’ll always be out there. I remember how it all seemed to come together so effortlessly. The energy on the set was lovely, we all felt deeply connected and had this sense that we are part of something really beautiful.
My first Conversations was in 2010. I just had this idea of putting something together. Conversations through movement. A small show, to just explore ideas. Frankly I’m not sure I really knew what I was doing. But the process itself was so fulfilling. The dancers/artists I was working with were so giving, and in the end we were all very proud with what we had created.
In 2013, I did a new one. This time I knew exactly what I was doing (I think). I was better planned. And I do feel our show in 2013 was phenomenal. I was exploring the idea that in every moment we carry the past with us, that doesn’t let us live fully in the present moment. And I knew I wanted to use the characters of Birds to tell this story. So I ended up with Pigeons, Crows and an Eagle.
It’s a very interesting story, how I chose these particular birds. I had actually gone to the zoo, to find some beautiful birds as an inspiration for movement and colors for costume etc. But at the zoo, all the beautiful, exotic birds were sitting in their cages, and just looked sad. And I was looking at them, waiting for some inspiration, and then I had the deep realization that what can a bird in a cage do! So the most interesting birds at the Zoo were actually the Pigeons and the Crows that were free and were flying, dancing everywhere.
7. What’s next? – A Love Letter to Karachi? Details please!
So A Love Letter To Karachi is the latest in the Conversations series. For the past year I have been feeling quite over whelmed at the generosity that I have experienced in this city. So much generosity in fact, that it has made me realize how ungenerous I am, and I really need to give more. Karachi really has pushed me to some crazy personal places. And I wanted to express this. This show is my way of saying thank you to this city.
We are a team of fourteen dancers. Sunil Shanker, who is also the lead performer, is also the co-director of this show. Ahsan Bari (Sounds of Kolachi) is composing original music for us. So in the show you will see a character called ‘Karachi’. And I am the ‘Outsider’. I guess you can say it’s a typical boy meets girl story. Except that this one is about a City and a Woman. City and Woman meet. They fight. There is conflict. But in the end, they fall in love.
8. Other than dance, what keeps you occupied?
Many things. Cooking and writing are right up there with dancing for me. And then I go through phases where I paint. I also love yoga and meditation. And watching films & reading books.
9. Your sign off note …
Please come and watch our show, Conversations 2016 – A Love Letter to Karachi. It’s Original, it’s relevant, it’s highly entertaining, and most of all, it’s about your city!
Starts on July 28th till August 14th @FTC Auditorium, Karachi.