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To cluck, or not to click
- Ranjana Dave

January 8, 2010

It is best for me to commence with one pointer - the camera.

Speaking in the context of his father's motivated struggle to document Indian dance, at the Natya Kala Conference, Ashish Khokar commented on how anyone with a digital camera can document today. I choose to begin with his remark as I find it reflective of a strange paranoia in the reception given to technology. While I draw on his words, I certainly do not wish to manipulate it out of context.

At some of the Natya Kala Conference sessions, there were extensive discussions on the subject of the younger generation and its relationship to classicism and 'tradition' Sometimes, one is left irked, because, as a generation, we are steamrollered into a blurred mass of unthinking, camera-holding, impatient zombies who can never aspire to the seemingly unattainable gunas of the concerned generation that came before.

Almost all the sabha programmes I attended this December, especially dance recitals, strictly prohibited photography and videography. I understand that dance choreography is intellectual property and cannot be copied without permission. While flash photography disturbs performers, I fail to comprehend why photographs cannot be taken at all. Or why one is not allowed to record a performance - after all, most of the people who do so use tiny digital cameras with limited memory space. Also, I'm not sure how many people really want to record an item from start to finish, and - even if they do - they're mostly low resolution videos that could never be good enough to sell or rip off choreography from.

The way one sees it, the restrictions on the use of the camera in sabhas do not really serve to curb piracy. Rather, if these dance clips are circulated through You Tube and other informal means of dissemination, it only makes the dancer an identifiable entity who no longer exists within a hoary world; she finds resonance among audiences young and old, the engaged audience whose loss she is constantly bemoaning. These videos, for us, are only a way of being introduced to the nuances of a form. They can never substitute the knowledge gained from real-time observation; they are triggers that make us want to know more.

Simultaneously, I was exposed to the huge CD exhibitions in sabha lobbies and at shops around the city, where the profuse quantity of dance DVDs sold at mostly astronomical prices left me wide-eyed. So, if you have vested interests and are rich enough to sustain them, you can legally buy a DVD and further indulge in illegally selling copies of the same or stealing "inspiration."

At the two-day annual festival organised in memory of Chandralekha, which focused on Chhau this time, the audience was mostly guarded in its use of flash, but freely took photographs and recorded the enthralling performances, with at least three or four high-end private video cameras doing full-length recordings each day. Some of those recordings might be up on the internet as I type this piece. The festival transformed my notion of Chhau - as it did for many others in the audience. All the artistes were part of Sangeet Natak Akademi projects and to have them together on one platform is not something that can be made possible every other day. And things could only get better if these rare performances reached people who were not lucky enough to watch them live.

If perishing traditions are our bane, why do we leave them by the wayside, to die, while we begin to mourn their deaths with those generic clucking sounds that many rasikas are so fond of? We couldn't disinherit technology even if we wanted to, because it is one of the factors that constitutes our generation and is now an inextricable part of our identity. To do that would be to live in an unreal world of denial.

Ranjana Dave studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She trains in Odissi and loves to write.

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