The spoken word

September 30, 2016 03:06 pm | Updated November 01, 2016 10:01 pm IST - Chennai

A new wave of talented poets, musicians and artistes is emerging as city-based open mic groups work hard to bring them into the spotlight



“Rakkai Vettiya Paravai

Naan Parakkindren

Sundhandhiram Ennum Siraiyil” the lines from a poem Ishvar Krishnan, a 20-something video editor had written a while ago for Crazy Little Things (an open-mic collaboration of Mocking Birds and Spot Note Music). “Although many didn’t understand Tamil, they came up to me later and asked what it meant. It was very encouraging,” he recalls. The poem roughly translates to, “A bird with severed wings, I fly amidst this prison called freedom.”

Ishvar is just one among many, who, in the past year, have become a part of the city’s growing open mic culture. But what makes it different? Well, these events are held with the primary objective of creating a platform for budding, closet artistes, be it musicians, poets or writers. “They are innately talented, but lack the encouragement and drive to showcase it to people,” explains Nandhitha Hariharan. She is the co-founder of the recently-launched open mic group, Let’s Talk Life, which she started with Sharada Vijay.

Take for example, Iswarya Rajagopal, an IT professional by day and writer by night. She remembers her first poetry performance as one filled with scepticism. “For one, I didn’t know how to emote. I didn’t know anybody there except the organisers,” she says, adding, “But the first performance left me more confident. And ever since, I’ve become a regular.” In another instance, Crazy Little Things once had a performer who was a college student by day and an ATM security guard by night. “It’s not just about an elite audience. We want to reach out to and encourage people from a cross-section of the society to perform,” states Ishvar. For these young organisers though, it wasn’t easy. They faced their fair share of empty chairs and still evenings. “Earlier, we used to have just five people in the audience. Incidentally, they were also the performers,” chuckles Ishvar, who is now a co-organiser with Crazy Little Things. Agreeing with him, Gayathri Krishnaraj, co-organiser of Open Sky Slam, says, “Though we hardly had participants, we carried on with our monthly events, and eventually, we became family.” It was active social media sharing which helped gather momentum. Now, these sessions have moved from quaint coffee shops and beaches to more open spaces like Craveyard Cafe and Mad Hatter’s Tea Garden. “We are now forced to restrict performances to 25 a session, and close audience entries at 100,” says Ishvar.

Banking on this momentum, the organisers have also begun charging an entry fee. For instance, Crazy Little Things, during its last event at Olive & Basil, charged an entry fee of Rs. 150, which could be redeemed for food from the restaurant. For Open Sky Slam’s event at Karya Space, the entry fee of Rs. 100 will go towards LonePack, an NGO which creates awareness about mental illness. “We decided to pick one theme this September, and cover it in unique ways. This was our approach,” says Gayathri.

So are all open mics theme-based? “Not really,” says Nandhitha. “While we’ve covered themes like feminism and beauty standards, which allow people to think of an issue from varied perspectives, an open session gives more people a chance to participate.”

A year into this game, open mic-ers are now planning to take things up a notch to create more relevance for their participants. Let’s Talk Life, for example, wants to identify talented artists, and provide them with necessary training and networking to help them lay a solid foundation in their respective fields. On the other hand, Crazy Little Things is attempting to make open mics a little more fun. “From next month, every second Saturday, we will have two musicals and 15 poetry performances. And, every two months, on a fourth Saturday, we’re planning performance poetries, where performers can combine art forms with poetry,” says Ishvar.With publishers and directors moving beyond the traditional means to scout for talent, could this be a bridge for upcoming artists between skill and success?

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