Astad Deboo, a pioneer in the field of contemporary dance in India, passed away Thursday morning at his residence in Mumbai at the age of 73. Deboo, who was battling stage four lymphoma or lymph node cancer, “leaves behind a formidable legacy of unforgettable performances combined with an unswerving dedication to his art, matched only by his huge, loving heart that gained him thousands of friends and a vast, number of admirers,” the family said in a statement.
Talking to indianexpress.com, photographer Neelesh Kale, his confidante and friend spoke about “the big loss”, their 25-year-long association, and Deboo’s first photoshoot after the lockdown in Pune this year.
“Just before Diwali, he drove down to Pune from Mumbai and told me that he wanted to do a photoshoot with me. It was the first time in eight months, after COVID lockdown, that he moved out of the city. But he was not his usual, energetic self. He kept stopping in between the shoot… even sitting on the sofa. I asked him if something was wrong, and he said that he hadn’t slept well and felt tired after driving for so long. But he also had a feeling that something was not right,” 51-year-old Kale, who was at a prayer meet held after Deboo’s last rites, said.
However, unlike “never before”, Deboo wanted himself to be clicked in “casual clothes”, shared the photographer. “This time, when he came for the shoot, I noticed that he was carrying a white jippa, white jacket, t-shirt, and a trouser and said that he wanted his normal pictures too. He had never made such a request earlier,” recalled Kale, of his last meeting with Deboo.
The photographer further said that Deboo was detected with stage four lymphoma, and had his last chemotherapy on November 24, 2020. “He shared the news with me after Diwali this year. It happened too fast. I had plans of going to Mumbai this week and spend time with him,” said Kale. “When I shot two of his performances last year, one at NCPA and another at Opera House, Mumbai, I felt he was not feeling his best. When I asked him, he responded saying that with age, these things were going to happen,” recalled the photographer.
“His demise is a big loss… everything happened very quickly. Recently, I had told him that there are a lot of pictures of him that are yet to be processed. Today morning at 3 am, I got a call that he passed away,” added Kale.
Kale, who has photographed Deboo over 20 times, worked actively with him during 1995-99 before he moved to Australia’s Sydney. “After I came back to India, he used to come to Pune for shoots,” mentioned Kale.
Deboo was “very caring, a fatherly figure to me, and a rare, genuine soul”, expressed Kale.
“As a person, he was always in high spirits. He had a great influence on me because he was the first contemporary dancer in India that I met. I learned a lot from him, particularly about movement and dance photography. He was a friend,” said the photographer who works a lot with “body form photography”.
Sharing his fond memories with the late dancer, Kale mentioned that “there are many crazy memories”. “I used to bring different props to the studio. Astad had a great ability to improvise. That is something I learned from him, and is very important for a photographer. With Astad, it used to be magic. You give anything in his hands and he would start creating something, put on music, bring rhythm and motion to it. And I used to click pictures. It used to be a kind of jugalbandi. It was awesome,” said Kale.
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