Do performing arts get fair coverage in the media? Yashaswini Rajeshwar listens to what a few leading artists say.

Come December and Chennai is abuzz with the kutcheri season. The city comes alive with music, malli poo and silk saris and every Chennai-ite, NRI and resident alike flocks to the various sabhas.

To the rest of the world, Chennai's performing arts scene is often represented by this time of the year. Yet, in reality, it is not restricted merely to Margazhi. While the Margazhi season may be an integral part of our calendar, it certainly is not the only event worth looking forward to.

Today's Chennai is a cultural hub, hosting events ranging from Mohiniattam performances to progressive heavy metal gigs to a variety of theatre productions. But the scene is not picture perfect. There is still a spot of black on the white canvas. Though Chennai's performing arts are on a high, the role of the media is debatable. No consensus can be reached on whether media portrayal of the performing arts is adequate or not.

Those who say that performing arts are inadequately portrayed justify their stand. Gopika Varma, a princess from the Travancore royal family and Mohiniattam dancer, feels that this is due to the media's commercial nature and because performing arts is not a priority.

Charulatha Mani, Carnatic vocalist, however, attributes it to a lack of professionalism in Carnatic music with too many sabhas and performers vying for the same media spots.

Media's role

Surprisingly, what most fail to recognise is that this debate is based on a fundamental assumption that the performing arts require media portrayal. Why should this be so? Eminent Bharatnatyam dancer and Padma Bhushan awardee V.P. Dhananjayan says, the performing arts is a “visual media for holistic education where the audience is physically, mentally and spiritually elevated.”

But Carnatic vocalist Chaittra Sairam and Gopika Varma believe that involvement of media is essential because of its large target audience. As Chaittra puts it, “any art needs publicity”, a view supported by Gopika Varma when she says “all artists deserve recognition”.

Mrs. Y.G. Parthasarathy, an educationist and journalist in a family of theatre personalities, says the media should portray arts simply because they have provided India numerous success stories.

Western musicians seem to conform to this notion as well. As Berty Ashley, co-founder of ASAP Production and a member of the band Spinal Chord, puts it, “the media needs to let people know that venues that host elaborate kutcheris may also offer thrilling western performances.”

Just as the performing arts themselves have seen tremendous growth over the last decade, the media too has developed. Charulatha Mani points out, “Media portrayal has definitely improved with increased space allotted for the performing arts, especially in broadcast journalism.”However, Karthik Kumar, co-founder of Evam entertainment, has a different take. “This field lacks a vision. The portrayal of theatre will not change unless theatre artists publicise their profitability and success.”

Future prospects

With such a diversity of opinion, expecting agreement over the future is unfair. To the question “where will the media be with respect to performing arts in 2020?”, artistes gave radically different answers.

Dance-actor and choreographer Anita Ratnam foresees a downward spiral, a mere continuation of current events. Her solution is to “make the arts accessible and evocative and facilitate synergy in education”.

Karthik Kumar feels that “there will be no difference in portrayal until there is a landmark change in the media's outlook and the seriousness of institutions related to the performing arts”. But Gopika Varma and Charulatha Mani feel otherwise and expect a positive turn.

Though most of us refer to the performing arts as a whole for simplicity's sake, there may be discord between the constituting fields themselves regarding the amount of media attention each receives.

While Dhananjayan feels music enjoys the limelight, Berty Ashley thinks it is theatre. Karan Nair, a stage actor currently with Little Theatre, feels dance is most unrepresented whereas Karthik Kumar argues importance is given to music, dance and theatre in that order.

Encouraging budding talent

Yet there is one area of agreement. When asked whether the focus should be on established or upcoming artists, everyone unanimously agrees that new talent deserves the spotlight. While Karthik Kumar's reason is that today's “new talent” will be tomorrow's “big shots”, YGP stresses on the need to portray upcoming talent especially in experimental music and dance and out-of-station artists.

Anita Ratnam, however, feels that everyone requires attention, with particular attention to upcoming stars. This, she believes, will be possible through “greater sensitivity, firmer editorial policy and increased ethical standards.”

Performing arts as a whole continues to be an essential part of Chennai's social life. Media portrayal is necessary to ensure that everyone derives equal pleasure from this platform. What a few individuals are enjoying now, all of Chennai should. The key to the hearts of the four million Chennai-ites is the same. The media.

Yashaswini is a Std. XII student of APL Global School.

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