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Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards 2017: Is the process mechanized?
- Bhavanvitha Venkat

June 24, 2018


Sangeet Natak Akademi awards announced and congratulatory messages pouring in the social media is now the order of the day. During this time of the year it has also become essential to critically analyze the results. No doubt there are many complaints, some justified though. It has become a practice to ignore one classical dance art form, set more as an authoritarian assertion about prerogative of the body. There is no base for this.

This time they did not consider Mohiniattam... "What's wrong with our dance?" exclaimed a Mohini! Is there logic? Yes, there is the mechanics of it coming to the fore. Previous year they omitted Odissi, remember?? The new phenomenon though is about self-promoting lobbies this year. The good thing about the lobbies is that they clearly put the selection committee to alert and the not so good thing is that their main objective is their very own benefit. Often you sense this informal and tacit understanding that they are ok with balance of mutual interests!

There is also a sort of a mechanical manner and approach right from the nominations to the eventual announcement. A surge in activity is noticed as some prospective candidates make right noises just before nominations are called, then getting nominated, celebrate once they achieve their purpose and then it all dies down. Mission accomplished, they fade out. To those who used that route... "Dear awardee, you moved one step in the mechanical escalator and you did not really step up the ladder."

Are awards about mechanization? Any media that objectively focuses on the contributions made (not achievements) is what is doing a good job. So no point in the usual artificial feeling bravos...but let there be simple exclamation! There seems to be a checklist where the administration keeps ticking the boxes. Is there some sense of lethargy too to the whole process? Unlike in other ministries, culture needs someone who has the heart and mind for the art. Especially in dance, one needs to look at various developments first hand and not through applications or nominations alone. They need to be there on the ground and sense what is happening about who is contributing, how they are contributing, etc. A critical requirement for understanding the contributions is to see how many good performers are produced and their all round knowledge. Else, document filled reputations that are impersonal in nature and lack of real understanding of the art guide the committee. Getting feedback from critics, dancers who have integrity and without conflict of interest goes a long way in ensuring that the sanctity of awards is maintained.

The bitter part of the story is that the genuine awardees have to contend with sharing their accomplishments with the artificial and believe they both are same, they with their life-long contribution. The lobbyist awardee goes around saying, "I got the award along with great so and so..."

As far as Kuchipudi is concerned, this year a traditional Kuchipudi artist was awarded in a classification that is meant for non-classical category. This is an injustice not only to the artist but to all Kuchipudi fraternity. That it is categorized as under 'Theatre' is not something many are taking as a saving grace.

We should also spare a thought to the plight of genuine bureaucrats who have to comprehend the complications and complexities of this art being a performing dynamics of Guru Parampara too. This is not an easy job as most of them are transferred sooner or later to other departments. The importance of the people who hold their seats at the middle level are the real power banks, says a senior dancer.

Let there be a well thought out and predetermined criteria that can justify the awards. A due diligence and audit by a third party whose observations can be made available. Let all the awardees come through as deserving and respected artists.

Bhavanvitha Venkat is a Kuchipudi dancer, writer and finance consultant.

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