Out of sight, out of shape

Every Sunday morning, at 11.30 a.m., Doordarshan Chandana features a recital by a classical dancer. This is a a slot exclusively reserved for them. It is perhaps the only segment in the burgeoning visual-scape of television that continues to host this genre today. For, if you scan the plenitude of private channels, amidst the numerous TV serials, reality shows and news programmes, even to smuggle classical dance into the TRP-ridden bandwidth seems near impossible.

“There are so many dancers in our State and there is just one channel. While they (DD Chandana) feature us on a weekly basis, they also have a national hook-up which happens once a month. But that’s about it. Television has become such a commercial space. Earlier, DD would come looking for us when we conducted dance festivals. They would offer us money to telecast those festivals because it was otherwise difficult for them to gather a variety of artists in one place. Today, it is the other way around. If it is a private channel, we have to be ready with a vast sum of money just to convince them to feature us,” explains Kuchipudi exponent, Vyjayanthi Kashi.

“The truth is that today there is too much competition. Channels have to justify their content in terms of the viewership and the revenue it generates. Classical dance does not make the cut in this respect, perhaps. Yes, it has a niche audience and not all programming heads are willing to invest in something that may not get them the mass audience,” she adds.

In the wake of such a commercial scenario, the only avenue for classical dancers is DD, a network run by the Government. This network also has the added dimension of awarding grades to dancers and is often considered the standard when it comes to recognising a ‘good enough’ dancer. “Saying that one is a graded artist helps dancers immensely. Sabhas, in Chennai, even the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) values these grades. Often, if you’re good, the Bangalore tapes are sent by Chandana to the National outlet and then you become the next grade artist,” adds Vyjayanthi.

But even this audition and grading process is laden with problems, say dancers. “First of all, these grades have relevance only in India and not abroad. Second, there is a huge lag when it comes to the audition date and the recording of the recital. Sometimes this lag lasts for two-three, even four years. Often, years after a dancer is auditioned, when Chandana calls them, she is pregnant or is out of shape. Out of the fear of losing an opportunity to dance on television, she records anyway but what good is that for the field of classical dance? I’ve recommended the Sunday morning programmes to my students but they come back and tell me that the dancer was out of shape or out of sync. There are such few slots for classical dance that this lag is bound to happen,” describes Bharatanatyam dancer Praveen Kumar.

He added that the national hook-up slot is telecasted in the middle of the night. “I can’t even ask my friends to stay up to watch that show at 11 or 12 in the night. I wonder why classical dance gets such a ‘secretive’ slot.”

Vyjayanthi spoke of Sharada, a retired dance audition in-charge in Chandana who made sure she auditioned close to 700 artists. “She wanted to make sure that whoever applied got a chance to audition. She had a passion for the arts and it showed. Today, competition is a huge factor. We may scold Doordarshan for its faults but it is because of them that classical dance on television is surviving” she explained.

Lakshmi Sainani, the current in-charge of dance auditions at Doordarshan, Bangalore, says that they are doing the best they can, trying to balance all the shows that they have. “ We are thinking of repeating some good programmes on DD Bharati which is telecasted nationally. This is the best we can do considering the number of shows we have. Frankly, we don’t even have the obligation to feature dancers. We only audition and give them a grade. Recording or telecasting a recital is up to us,” she said.

Most dancers contend that though it is their only option on television, applying for the audition in Doordarshan is a tedious process. “Most often we don’t even think about television as an option for us. It is just so tedious and more often than not ridden with politics,” says Bharatnatyam dancer Shruti Gopal.

“Then, there is the aggravating part where classical dance is misrepresented in small segments on reality shows. Since there are no other segments dedicated to classical dance or dancers, people end up watching these reality shows and often get a distorted picture of the dance form,” she adds.

All dancers say that since television is such a ubiquitous medium, classical dance would do well if it found space on it. “It is definitely not true that classical dance is not accessible to all. It is up to the dancers to make it accessible. There is a TV in every house. If channels invested in this genre, even a little bit, at least, we can create a wider viewership base,” says Shruti.

Ironically, it is the lack of viewership, ratings if you would prefer, that is cited to not dedicate space for classical dance on television, especially with the private channels. “Perhaps, if people write to channels and say that they would like to see more dancing, things might change. Or, if there are art enthusiasts willing to sponsor or invest in channels dedicated to dance, then that might help too,” reasons Vyjayanthi.

“If you want to showcase our arts and culture to a wider audience, TV is the best way to do it. We need to package classical dance attractively for TV and that is not impossible,” adds Praveen.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 3:17:38 AM |

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