“The Akademi has become a sponsor, dispensing money, which is not its job”

Noted Bharatanatyam exponent and Chairperson of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Leela Samson has taken it upon herself to “put the Akademi back on track” to pursue its originally stated mission of documenting and academically conserving art for posterity. Ms. Leela who was in Cochin to inaugurate the Confederation of Indian Industry's Convention on Women Leaders, shared with The Hindu her vision for the Akademi, which she thinks has “derailed” lately. “The priorities of the Akademi got derailed from its main mission. It has become some kind of a sponsor, dispensing money and awards to people, which is not its job. The government has various other agencies and systems to do that. Even State governments are approaching the Akademi to fund its programmes. I objected strongly to this practice,” says Ms. Samson, who also chairs the Central Board of Film Certification and is the Director of Kalakshetra.

The objective of the institution, she maintains, should be to document art and archive it in digital format; hold seminars and support art research; extend a helping hand to dying arts; and conduct educational programmes. Instead of being a post office for the government to dispense money, the Akademi should de discussing national policies on art and giving counsel to the Centre on streamlining, if not evolving, systems for the preservation of the country's rich cultural and artistic heritage. At Centre's request , the Akademi spent a huge sum, to perk up the year-long celebration of Tagore in connection with the poet's 150th birth anniversary. Prior to that, it was called in to spice up the Commonwealth Games. “To sum it up, national priorities took over the Akademi's priorities,” she rues, adding that “this cannot be done at the cost of the regular functioning of the Akademi”.

While special funding is done for such programmes, “somehow at the end of the day, our budget gets squeezed to accommodate them”. Academic research and conservation are prime on the Akademi's agenda and her motto as its head is to “clean up the house and set it in order” to provide scholars, artists and institutions access to its historic archives. “It will also make administration easier”. Having been a repository of art, the Akademi, like the AIR, boasts an enviable archive featuring rare and distinguished records of performances and lecture-demonstrations by stalwarts. “Despite this, if the SNA can't come out with great recordings and books, who else can? Why can't we reproduce them and disseminate them to those who matter. If Mallika Sarabhai wants to see a rare recording of her mother Mrinalini Sarabhai's performance, [currently] she can't access it. Digitisation costs the earth and there are patenting issues involved. But the repository of our intangible heritage should be made accessible to educational institutions, eminent artists and scholars… Institutions [subscribing to the archives] may then log on to it to catch a glimpse of a rare Krishnan Asan [the late Kathakali maestro] performance. It is financially viable as the money thus generated could be used for the Akademi's core activities. Let us get on with it.”

An eminent exponent of Bharatanatyam, Ms. Samson deems its right to steer clear of the stage so long as she holds a public office. She still offers private lecture-demonstrations, though. It isn't a sacrifice, as she makes use of the time available at her disposal to get a foothold in Kathakali she had developed a liking for at the Kalakshetra. “Sadanam Balakrishnan Asan is my guru,” she says.