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Replies from Bruno, Ranvir and Anita to
Boo Hoo Bruno!
... and the politics of whining

February 21, 2008
From Bruno Kavanagh

Dear Anita -
Gloves off indeed!

Perhaps, but sadly I cannot gratify your wish for a slugfest since, in general, I liked your response to my piece (apart from the bits about Preeti's show being bad, of course - legitimate response though that is). I can quite see how the article may have seemed a bit patronising. However, I should point out that it was a response to the response of the audience, rather than a defence of The Absent Lover. I was amazed (as I said in the piece) that so many of the people I spoke to afterwards were looking for a concrete story. Perhaps the Kalidasa reference inflated people's narrative expectations.

But beyond the personal spleen-venting (ah, the joys of self-publishing!) I think the important point at stake is where you write: "Come back and give us a show that we can cheer, laugh, cry and be amazed at!" Why, exactly? I feel sure you'd agree - no? - if art starts to be about pleasing the audience then we may as well all go home.


PS: One question - how is the 'lingam' a concrete representation (since you have an issue with my saying it's abstracted)?

February 29, 2008

From Ranvir Shah

(Ranvir Shah of Prakriti Foundation who presented THE ABSENT LOVER writes a response titled 'In defence of Chennai' in THE HINDU-Friday Review on February 29, 2008 - 

Click here to read the complete version that was sent to both The Hindu and

March 1, 2008
From Bruno

I would like anyone who reads the responses from Ranvir Shah or Anita Ratnam on this website to be aware of an important point: The original article in The Hindu was written by ME - Bruno Kavanagh - and not by my wife, Preeti Vasudevan. It expresses MY opinion and not HERS. The choreography of 'The Absent Lover' is HERS and not MINE.

Is this distinction so difficult to grasp?

I ask this because both Ratnam and Shah have used their irritation with the opinions expressed in my piece as a basis to attack my wife's work with extraordinary nastiness. From two people who claim to be supporters and nurturers of the arts, would I be alone in finding this disappointing? I don't think so.

Shah was rescued from deeper public self-embarrassment by an editor at The Hindu who filtered out most of his bitchiest and self-inflating comments. Ratnam has chosen to publish Shah's full text on this website. I invite readers of to judge whether they feel it is worthy of a professional presenter.

Since Ratnam publishes her own words, there has been no opportunity for the voice of reason to counsel a more measured response. Ms. Ratnam is, from what I have previously seen and heard over my time in this city, a sensitive and intelligent woman who makes a significant contribution to the arts scene in Chennai and beyond. I would like to think that, in a calmer moment of reflection, she has realised that she went too far.

My article - as I attempted to make clear in the text - was NOT a defence of 'The Absent Lover' NOR an attack on the audience who came to the show (many of whom, incidentally, loved it). My goal was to use some comments I'd heard after the performance as a 'hook' for the piece, in which I move forward quickly to discuss a larger issue: a reluctance amongst audiences in India to engage with 'difficult' art and a loss of the sense of the abstract amongst the newly urbanised classes. It's worth noting that nobody I have heard from - except Ratnam and Shah - has told me they were offended or felt patronised by this piece. I'm glad, because this was not the intention. Indeed, the article was designed to help - and many people have thanked me for it.

You may, of course, disagree with my thesis. By all means! Let's have a debate! This is, after all, a crucial issue when it comes to grooming current and future audiences. But healthy debate is not what has happened. Instead, as so often when supersized egos are bruised, out come the same old bazookas. Any chance of interesting discussion is buried under tsunamis of ego-driven invective and personal attack. The prize goes to... he or she who can shout the loudest. I would expect better from Ratnam and Shah.

I invite them, or anyone reading this, to attack my opinions. I welcome debate and value it. But to publicly dismember an emerging artist's work because she is married to someone whose newspaper article has offended you is morally spineless. You (Anita Ratnam) have publicly branded 'The Absent Lover' a 'failure.' Ranvir Shah, with a staggering lack of professionalism, has said in the press that it was 'a curatorial mistake.' This is from a presenter who did not attend a single rehearsal, nor offer any attempt to make constructive criticism after the performance. This piece in the newspaper is the first that my wife has heard from Shah. Does this show a genuine concern to 'nurture' the arts? Again, I invite readers to be the judge.

In advancing your own agenda in this way, you show disrespect to the Chennai audience you serve. As both of you are well aware, a large number of people enjoyed the show greatly, and took a lot out of it. But your own sense of outrage at my article, it seems, is more important. So you carelessly lash out at The Absent Lover as a 'failure' and a 'mistake'. All this hype out of personal pique? Shame on you both!

Anita Ratnam and Ranvir Shah: You are both guilty of a serious dereliction of your responsibilities as custodians of the arts you claim to love and serve. From the two leaders of Chennai's cultural community it is deeply saddening. The city deserves better.

Bruno Kavanagh

March 3, 2008
From Anita Ratnam

Dear Bruno

Thank you for the recent mail to I would like to start by saying that I am not a custodian of anything and, in fact, detest notions of custody, ownership and protectiveness. My voice, as I have said before, is not representative of the Chennai audiences at large.

I welcome a debate, which is thrown open to all readers of this site. If your issues are with "the newly urbanized classes" alleged lack of response to the abstract in the arts, you should be able to substantiate it beyond one audience's response to one particular performance.

Your reaction to bad fallout of that one performance should not be couched in terms of cultural judgment and generalizations about a people's ability to appreciate art.

My opinion of Preeti Vasudevan's production would have remained with me without comment on, had you not used the work as a peg for your grievances about the lack of enthusiasm from the Chennai audience that evening.

As I have mentioned in my initial response, I believe in Preeti's talent and ability to continue her creative journey. That belief, my opinion of this production and my responses to your writings are three different things. On the issue of publishing the unedited version of Mr Ranvir Shah's article, I have this to say: mainstream media's conservatism and ideas of political correctness might prevent them from truly encouraging open dialogues and debates. The Internet, as you perhaps know, is bristling with the here and now and is refreshing in its ability to level the playfield by registering different voices.

There are layers of subtexts to Chennai audiences' responses. Rarely would anyone from this city come up to you directly with a negative word. My understanding of the Chennai audiences' psyche is from two angles - one as a performer for over 40years and being rated by this audience, and also from the perspective as a curator and audience member for many years.

What confuses me is that, on the one hand, your initial article in THE HINDU complained of lack of any responses, while on the other hand you seem to highlight the lack of negative responses as a statement on the quality of the production.

Bon voyage! Hope New York makes you cheer up!

Anita R Ratnam

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