Pernia Qureshi is a busy woman. She is the founder of the online store, Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop; designer of an eponymous womenswear label, film stylist, Bollywood actress (she debuted in August 2015 with the movie Jaanisaar), and a classical dancer. It’s the latter that she is bringing to the fore with a solo dance recital: Chandni Raatein — Love and Dance under the Moonlight with Pernia Qureshi. The choreography is by Padma Bhushan awardees and dancers Raja Radha Reddy and Kumudini Lakhia.
The first leg of the show saw her performing at the Indian Habitat Centre in Delhi earlier this month. Qureshi has no qualms in admitting that she was “freaking out” backstage. “I had never been this nervous before. I did not realise how different it is to do your own production, where the entire responsibility rests on you.”
Qureshi’s first solo recital in two years will see her perform Kuchipudi (which she has been training in for the last 8-9 years) and Kathak (which she has been learning since the age of 4) . “It will be interesting for the audience to get two distinct flavours in one show,” she explains.
“I will also be performing to live music, which is not so common anymore. But I feel its charm cannot be replaced — the energy evoked by live music is truly beautiful.”
Dance was never just another extracurricular activity for Qureshi. She recalls her childhood in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh where she would accompany her mother to her Kathak classes. The transition from watching her mother dance to dancing herself was a seamless one.
After relocating to Delhi, Qureshi was under the mentorship of Pandit Tirath Ram Azad and continued training in Kathak while attending Woodstock School in Mussoorie. She even pursued a minor degree in dance at The George Washington University, in the US, after toying with the idea of purely studying dance at The Juilliard School, New York.
It was a Kuchipudi workshop she attended in college that piqued her interest in the dance form. “I approached Raja Radha Reddy and Kaushalya Reddy, who are the best in the field, to train me. Since they don’t take adult students, I had to beg them to become a disciple. I was on probation for a week before they agreed,” she says. Even today, she unfailingly practises with them for two hours every morning and heads to work only post-lunch.
During the course of Jaanisaar, Qureshi also got the opportunity to train with Kathak maestros Pandit Birju Maharaj and Kumudini Lakhia. “One-on-one training under these legends was reason enough to do the film,” she confides.
As faithful as she is to a career in dance, Qureshi doesn’t think that sitting on the front row at couture weeks in Paris overshadows her credibility as a dancer. “I can’t work less in fashion or ignore my responsibilities towards my business just because I want to be seen as a serious dancer. I am co-existing as someone who is modern but extremely cultured,” she says.
In fact, Qureshi is also hoping to change the perception of Indian classical dance with her endeavours: “I want to instil that being rooted is supercool. It is important for the Indian youth to involve themselves in art and culture — they are just not exposed,” she sighs.
Additionally Qureshi is working on an annual dance festival to promote upcoming dancers of various Indian classical styles. “I’m hoping to launch it by the end of this year or in early 2017 and plan to travel with it,” she says. Qureshi is quick to point out that technical perfection has never been her endgame as a professional dancer.
“The only reason I pursued dance was because it has given me joy since childhood. We all need that one thing that is pure and untainted by ulterior agendas. I enjoy dancing only because it gives me peace. Period,” she says.
Be there: Chandni Raatein — Love and Dance under the Moonlight with Pernia Qureshi will premier in Mumbai on February 26, at 7pm
Where: Godrej Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point
Register on: perniaqureshi.com