interview Leela Samson is set to be Chairperson, Sangeet Natak Akademi. ANJANA RAJAN
T he Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), the country's apex cultural body for music, dance and theatre arts, is set to receive its new Chairperson. Eminent Bharatanatyam dancer Leela Samson — Director and Member Secretary, Kalakshetra, since 2005 — confirmed having been asked to take up the post. India's traditional arts are often treated as a fossilised concept even as their pageantry and complexity are flaunted as the nation's pride. This dichotomy is one of the reasons SNA, an autonomous body under the Government of India, is sometimes questioned for spending public money on projects the average citizen rarely takes interest in. Besides, memories of the last time an eminent dancer was Chairperson — Sonal Mansingh's abruptly terminated tenure — are not sweet. In the furore over Sonal's alleged “arrogance”, the inquiries she initiated into allegations of financial irregularities in SNA's day-to-day functioning were all but shouted down. The topics that took centrestage back then, too, are symptomatic of the uneasy relationship between the traditional arts — particularly dance — and the public, including the media. How does Leela Samson, known for steering clear of controversy in a career that has projected her immaculate dance and choreographic skills over any other aspect of her personality, intend to tackle this situation? On e-mail from Chennai, the renowned disciple of Rukmini Devi Arundale, though stating she was “yet to receive an official note in this regard”, shared her thoughts on the imminent assignment. Extracts:
What will be your priorities?
Once I have taken over, visited Delhi and understood the problems, I will be in a better position to judge the priorities. Besides, SNA has a Board and a Ministry under which it functions, with the Prime Minister heading that Ministry — all these parties must have their priorities laid down for the Akademi already. Having said that, as a distant observer ( I have never served on that Board) I think that its role of being a producer of performances and festivals alone, might constructively shift to longer term benefits for the country like documentation, dissemination of information, art education programs and the creation of tools for a better understanding of the arts, for all level of educational work, for village and distant learning programs, the creation of chairs in universities, collaborations with foreign universities with existing arts programmes, archiving and making the archives available in the form of publications, CD's and DVD's for our children, and for the national and international markets.
India still does not have an official cultural policy…
In a country like India — with such diverse arts at all levels, it would be an impossible document to produce and like the Natya Shastra would have to have a rider stating that it is neither prescriptive nor dogmatic. Any such policy would have to change with the times, and not [be] dictated to by political or religious ideologies.
Do you think one of SNA's duties is to create awareness of and appreciation for the arts among a wider public?
Yes. I would think it does have a responsibility to do that. There are constructive ways of art becoming meaningful in our lives again, through awareness tools as mentioned above. Performance is not the only way.
Will you be moving to Delhi?
No. I have started some important work here in Kalakshetra and wish to see those to fruition. Besides, the Akademi will be run by the Secretary, not the Chairman, as all organisations are.
What will happen to Kalakshetra work?
Kalakshetra is setting systems in place and these are beginning to work. Besides, I am supported by an enlightened board, a good team of teachers and efficient administrative staff.
What about your own performances and choreography during your tenure?
Alas! This will end.
The SNA and the Chairperson's post have drawn controversy, from award distribution to financial questions to disagreements that became public. How do you propose to handle this?
I suspect with some involvement. However, the personality-centric nature of the controversies will have to be replaced by some responsibility and generosity. We are all different. But we can work for the common good. It is not about us surely.