Participants pointed out issues involved in the appreciation of classical arts.
If arts are not going to represent a free state of mind in a democracy, what else will? The issue was raised by Sadanand Menon teacher and editor of ‘culture journalism' and arts curator, while moderating a session on dance and the media. With economic compulsions reducing all print media into deliverers of entertainment, vacuous art journalism comprising reviews full of just adjectives, totally missing the essence of a performance, had reduced art writing to a non-event - with little space for reflection and analytical comments spurring a healthy public debate. Instead closed minds, victims of a one-way flow of information with no room for being questioned, were being reinforced.
Chitra Mahesh mourned the absence of interest in our classical arts in the young, totally taken over by the mass media. Dance and music no longer commanded niche space in journals. Anuradha Ananth spoke of problems of working on television where content verses commerce makes classical arts lose the race, and where (as in culture writing) specialisation is not considered vital. Sruti Editor Ramnarayan mentioned putting into effect the latest proposal to introduce four-year courses in school curriculum on music/dance/theatre writing for aspiring youngsters in art journalism.
Is the audience for classical arts growing, wondered Anil Srinivasan, moderator for a session on Art, Beauty and Creation with Unnikrishnan, Rajeev Menon and Devdutt Patnaik as participants. With shrinking time and audiences with smaller attention spans, how could the arts preserve their core identity while seducing younger audiences? We have metaphors in Nataraja blissfully dancing, oblivious of an audience or need for it and a contrasting ‘Natwari Lal' Krishna unabashedly sensuous and seducing all and sundry with his charm - the “Reproductive” verses the “Romantic” one meant to uplift and the other to entertain. Arts have to be the Menaka seducing Vishvamitra, the audience.
Why did old people in Kerala go back to the old film ditties asked Rajeev – only because they are full of melody, while this fast moving age specialises only in the razzmatazz of rhythm, sans the sensitivity and subtle seduction of melody. Apart from format changes, there was need for performance spaces where the performer/audience intimacy could be preserved.
In the session on the “Essence of Abhinaya,” watching Lakshmi Viswanathan render Kshetragna's “Adi Oka yugamu” in Kambodhi and snatches of ‘Dari Joochuchunnadi' (Sankarabharanam) and ‘Indendu vaccitivira' (Surati) made one wonder how non-specialist writing could capture or understand the nuances of what the dancer was showing in the abhinaya. Along with spaces for such dance diminishing, where does this part of our heritage stand?
That classical verities could be maintained in less severe, seductive manifestations was shown by Unnikrishnan singing two lines of a film song in Khamas, the captivating lyric not polluting the classicism of the raga in any way. Was collaboration another mantra for seduction, it was asked.
Talking of seduction, Bollywood known for this act had its representative in this Conference, in Saroj Khan whose choreography with all the “jhatakmatak” was demonstrated by the dancer assistants on whom she tries her choreographic designs before teaching them to the stars. But it was when the 61-year old Saroj was herself persuaded to demonstrate two minutes of a film dance, that the auditorium of classical enthusiasts broke into applause, Saroj Khan having more oomph in her little finger than what her dancers had in their entire body.
It provoked Padma Subrahmanyam to scamper on to the stage from the audience to hug and congratulate the performer and pay her the ultimate compliment of saying that her choreography had (unconsciously) used movements defined in the Natya Sastra. The consciousness that classical dance needs to lure larger audiences is not missing as proved by Radhika Shurajit's lecture demonstration with screened excerpts from “thaka dhimi tha” the TV Reality Show.
Creating performance space for youngsters who can use their knowledge of classical dance in unusual ways through dance puzzles, games, dance education, dancing with properties, fusion segments, learning segments as part of a joyous participation, Radhika is bravely battling odds to reach out to uninitiated audiences. All success to her in facing this tremendous challenge for as a classical dancer she knows the tight rope walking needed to see that the dignity of the dance cannot be sacrificed. Elaborating on the new concept of time, senior arts journalist and Chairperson of Appan, Shanta Serbjeet Singh in her valedictory address spoke of why classical arts were always considered a class apart and had always been elitist.
Times have changed and so have the gurus and the sishyas, with stalwarts of the past and disciples capable of tapasya to master the art form absent. Could we today repeat what Allaudin Khan experienced when his Guru who accepted him after great persuasion and assessing the pupil, taught him Raga Yaman and then told him to practise the raga for twelve years and then get back to him for continuing his training! One Allauddin Khan cloistered in a poor village of Maihar has produced the likes of Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Annapoor, Sharan Rani and a host of others. From this to the casualness today in the media's inhouse reviewing and critiquing done by non-specialists, are we not doing the arts a disservice?
Except DD Bharati where was classical dance in the massive presence of dance manifesting as reality shows, or Chitrahaar. A manthan or churning was needed in the arts.
Keywords: Sadanand Menon, Chitra Mahesh, Anuradha Ananth, Ramnarayan, Unnikrishnan, Rajeev Menon, Devdutt Patnaik, Lakshmi Viswanathan, Saroj Khan, Radhika Shurajit, Shanta Serbjeet Singh, Padma Subrahmanyam