Shrill sounds of apaswaras

November 23, 2018

A simple occurrence used to create a political loud disruptive noise that seemed like an apaswara – an out of tune note that landed like the most obnoxious blare on the eardrums of those who revere the arts.

How an organizer deals with its sponsors backing out is worth exploring. I have been an active organizer/impresario for 40 years working with some of greatest legends of India in the first half of my career. The world of organizing or event manager as it was called in the mid 80’s and 90’s was dependent on the promotional exercises or image building exercises of the corporate companies. My tryst started with ITC Ltd who was a great benefactor for the arts and other events. Every brand of theirs supported a particular activity based on the entertainment needs of the users of the brand. If the brand was Gold Flake and the user segment was a connoisseur of arts the activity envisaged was “for the gracious people” was Golden Greats, Swarna Sankhya – Golden numbers, etc. Many companies joined the existing band wagon of TATA’s, ITC, Citi Bank, Standard Chartered, etc . This probably was the best time for the arts and entertainment.

At that time I used to organize a Kannada Film Awards the Tarangini Berkeley Film awards for Kannada films amongst many of the large events, the grand event totally filmi was around 5-6 years old and suddenly one fine morning as the event was just a few days away, we were all set and the invites were getting in to print the district manager from ITC called me to their office and told me in a terse and officious manner that the company has decided to back off from the event and they just called it off! One had to deal with the artists and press alike.

The Tarangini Berkeley Kannada Film Awards night. Suhasini and Vishnuvardhan in the last row including Charuhaasan, Nagabharana TS, Girish Kasarvalli etc.

A similar incident happened with another prime event of mine “Raga Tala” that was sponsored by Britannia after 6 years of organising this there was a change of management and the first thing that they chopped was this classical based music event. It has happened with host or hotel sponsors who decide to change the activities they support when the General Managers are transferred and new managers come. I am sure many of the Sabhas and organisations have faced the sponsors either backing off or reducing the amounts randomly. In fact, during demonetisation, it was rampant and almost every member of the art community faced the brunt of cancellations, reduction of budgets, backing off etc.

MS Amma in Raga Tala sponsored by Britannia

The annual Vaidika Aradhana organised in the shishya parampara by Sadguru Thyagabrahma Aradhana Kainkarya Trust of Chellam Iyer fame now retired bore the brunt of it hugely and the now Managing Trustee Veda Brahmasri Radhakrishna GS had to literally put in his savings to get the samaradhana feeding nearly 15000 Thyagaraja Bhaktas. With this in perspective I wondered if the cancellation of one program actually attracted such a huge brouhaha and wide media noise. How many media houses are not guilty of such an action?

So, it’s not about the cancellation. It’s politically motivated and initiated carefully monitored and calibrated action plan that was taken up like the ‘baton race’ by the liberal, well connected, media tzars, intellectuals and the race began.

It was not about losing one program or the denial of an opportunity as said by the AAP politician Manish Sisodia BUT clearly, the using of a cancellation that was seen from the coloured red glasses that has its explicit vision of ‘the orange brigade hates me’ hues.

Many questions sprang up to my mind, the organisation was SPIC MACAY who was in touch or approached the AAAI for a sponsorship to support its flagship event. When you approach a sponsor don’t you submit a proposal with all the details of the event and the organisation takes the responsibility of all the details including the advertising, printing, inviting, artists, their coordination, the event itself etc. Most of the time the sponsors do not find the time to even attend the function. It is the responsibility of SPIC MACAY to have handled this entire episode with care or rather kid gloves to not allow it to be blown out of proportion and to have controlled the loud and shrill chorus that emanated.

It left me wondering why Dr Kiran Seth did not issue any statement that clarified the cancellation in support of its prime sponsor AAAI.

After all SPIC MACAY has been a Government beneficiary from the Ministry of Culture, ICCR, organisations of the Government, etc including the Rashtrapati Bhavan events where they were consulted and collaborated on numerous occasions. The moot point is the coyness of SPIC MACAY in the TV interview of Ms Rashmi Mallik that we have only postponed the event and that AAAI was busy and so wouldn’t be able to attend the event!!! Did they conspire to  further the political agenda of TM Krishna? The first row guest list at the Delhi Government included activist Aruna Roy, Indira Jaising, Sitaram Yechury……….et al. No marks for guessing the links and the friends of the same feathers flocked together.

One finds this self motivated self preservation streak quite often that apparently is deciphered as “diplomacy”. So if the rest of the three artists were denied the opportunity to perform and dropped unceremoniously it did not matter. I would only bother about “I,Me, Myself”. What stopped TM Krishna from showing respect to the two senior artists Dr. Sonal Mansingh and Ustad Shahid Parvez and a colleague Priyadarshini Govind and telling Sisodia that I will appreciate that the entire set of artists be included and then whether the newly nominated BJP MP Dr. Mansingh chose to perform was her prerogative but to ignore them clearly shows the pre planned political agenda.

Another aspect that keeps bothering me is the selection process or choice of artists of national agencies and organisation. While the primary benchmark as proclaimed is that they must be a Padma awardee or SNA Awardee or an A grade artist of AIR or DD but what is the percentage of such artists amongst the huge 1.2 million population of our country. Numerous art practitioners fall between the stools and remain incognito with out programs all their life.

The situation is sad. Most dancers are either paying from their pockets – money earned from other sources or from their parents who keep funding their children to keep their passions alive and motivated. Music field has it better and musicians for dance have it good. How can we work towards a parallel process where even if the artists are not ‘awardees’ they still get a decent amount of opportunities that offer a ‘payment too’.

Government funded organisation like SNA, SPIC MACAY etc must revise their processes and more that everything enhance the payments.

If one talks to the artists, in general, the only line, we hear is the payment is hardly anything! The group of 30 plus ‘Awardee Artists’ keep getting repeated across the platforms and basically get the best slices of the available pies some of them even if they did not qualify the criteria of being an SNA awardee or a ‘Padma’ awardee.

Such Media noisy occurrence’s set our minds thinking and bring up issues that we otherwise refrain from addressing.

The most recent cacophonous movement #MeToo brought to the fore numerous stories and experiences from victims who kept their lips sealed for decades. Randomly names emerged from many areas of work and the arts too this time Chennai or as the delhites call it southbased stories were posted and discussed widely. Twitter, facebook, blogs etc were flooded with horrific episodes.

The one who doles out programs is the one who yields the ‘power’. Whether it is Sabha Secretaries or the one-man Cultural Organiser or the hi-fi impresario or the senior arty people who adorn the thrones of the cultural committees or are the office bearers of institutions, these are the tribe that keep the strings of the programs in their tight powerful fists. This power is what gives them the arrogance and high handedness to behave in any manner they may want. This doesn’t mean that we can paint the entire universe is one single brush or colour BUT having heard verbatim reports from many artists who request not to be named (appreciably) I am amazed that how is it possible that not a single case has come out. Is the seeking of a performance so important that we can accept this kind of promiscuous behaviour and keep mum about it? It fails me!

I only want to tell the young dancers that this was the reason for me from 2006 to organise performances for the young and up coming dancer so that they do not have to succumb to the pressures of the predators in the garb.

The time and energies of the youth in Arts must be steered to better their knowledge, their artistic techniques and forms rather than demean the forms that have existed for centuries and have constantly reinvented themselves to create appreciation in every Yuga. Time for introspection and focus on one’s devotion to the arts.

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