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Ellora Patnaik-A Multi-faceted Artiste

Umrao - The Role of a Lifetime- says Ellora Patnaik

By Renuka

with file from Kala


Ellora Patnaik as Umrao with Rupinde Nagra as Faiz

Ellora Patnaik considers herself a very lucky woman indeed.  She will portray, for a Canadian/Indian audience, one of the most loved female Indian literary characters of all times.  For an actor, a role like Umrao comes along once in a lifetime, if you are lucky. Although the role of Umrao is daunting, Ellora is up for the challenge and working with a dream cast and director, in a story she grew up, which makes it all worthwhile.

"The novel of Umrao Jan Ada (of 1890)  is like a member of the (Patnaik) family.  I grew up with the story and, of course, I've seen the movie.  But I had never considered the enormity of the role until approached to play her," enthuses Ellora Patnaik.  "Umrao is such a wonderful sensualist.  This is a woman who wants to explore all that the world has to offer. She tastes and dances with passion, smokes the hookah, writes and thinks in poetry!"

"Although this version of the play is in English, the key poetry remains in Urdu.  I am quite concerned about getting the accent correct.  It is just so important.  Everyone tells me I am doing just fine but I want to get it right, because Umrao would have gotten it right," states the ACTRA and EQUITY member. 

Ellora was born into a family of artists. Her mother, Chitralekha under whom she began her dance training at the tender age of seven, is a well-known Odissi dancer-teacher who runs the Chitralekha Dance Academy in Toronto. She joined the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, completing a two-year course at the academy. Absolutely at home, enacting characters from the classics of Shakespeare, Anton Chekov and Eugene O' Neil.  

Ellora began her career by studying the Odissi, Kathak, and various folk dances. In 1985, she was trained by Nandita Patnaik and performed with her and her mother Chitralekha Patnaik across North America. 

In 1988, she was trained by Guru Gangdhar Pradhan, the principal of the Chitralekha Dance Academy, in Canada. She then received a scholarship to study Odissi dance at the Odissi Research Centre in Bhubaneswar, Orissa for two years under the guidance of Padmabhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra. 

In Bhubaneswar, she acted in an Oriya film entitled "Daiba Daudi", directed by Hara Patnaik. During her stay in Orissa, she learned from Padmashri Pankaj Charan Das. She  studied intensively under the leading gurus of the Odissi style in Orissa, including advanced work in expressive dance-acting (abhinaya) with the famous dancer Padmashri Sanjukta Panigrahi.

Ellora has also danced in India, Europe, the U.S. and across Canada. She trained for the stage in New York City at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  In 1994, she was chosen to perform in the Academy's Company for one year. She then performed off-Broadway as the lead in John Olive's Standing on My Knees that also toured Iceland. 

In 1995, Ellora presented her directorial debut of Guru Pankaj Charan Das' Glaanisanghaar. In February 1996, she inaugurated the Konark Dance and Music Festival in a duet recital with Shri Manaranjan Pradhan. Ellora teaches Odissi and tours with the Chitralekha Dance Academy.

Ellora began her acting career in Toronto through a play by Girish Karnad called Nagamandalam. She won ovations for her role as Rani in Nagamandala both at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre (1997) and the Canadian Museum of Civilization (2000).

At that time Mira Nair was talent scouting for a heroine for 'My Own Country', she happened to watch the play and the next thing you know is Ellora was cast as the leading lady. She was the lead character in the Hindi film, Tapish by Jai Prakash that is available in Canada on video. She is also the voice of Immitatia in Stan Lee Media Production's 7th Portal.  

"I am grateful to Sally (Jones) for inviting me to join this production. Not only is Umrao an amazing character, which I love as a woman, but working with Sally's direction is such an amazing experience.  I feel like I am back at theatre school. With Sally's Ph.D. in Theatre Arts and her loving, in-depth knowledge of India, I learn so much, just being in the same room with her," says Ellora.  "This really is Sally's labour of love, and she is doing something real with it. I performed in Nagamandala with Sally in '97, and, well let's just say, I am delighted to be back working with her!"

"This Umrao is a contemporary play in a traditional style.  The costumes, body language and set are traditional Indian but because it is performed in English with a modern character 'Writer,' it balances my love of the traditional and modern.  The more I explore Umrao, the more in awe of her I become," raves Ellora.

Rasik Arts presents Umrao by Ms. Geetanjali Shree in an English translation based on the classic Urdu novel of hope, rejection and survival, Umrao Jan Ada, from September 5 - 16 at Artword Theatre, Toronto. Rasik Arts is an organization of artists devoted to presenting the emerging contemporary theatre of South Asia.

Sally Jones directs this Rasik Arts production of Umrao.  It features eight actors including Ellora Patnaik as Umrao, three musicians and dancer Bageshree Vaze.  Bradley A. Trenaman is lighting designer and technical director.