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Awards on an arbitrary criteria
- Madhavi Puranam

July 19, 2018

(This is an excerpt from the Nartanam editorial, Volume: XVIII, No. 2 April - June 2018, reproduced with permission)

The Sangeet Natak journal of the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), the premier body for arts in the country is languishing without an editor and with no regular issues coming out. In a country with a population of more than 130 crores, there is no serious academic journal on dance. Much has been spoken about the SNA and the culture departments and the bureaucrats and how they have failed to deliver.

But what about the dance community? Impeccably dressed to kill, they light up any party or gathering. Scratch the surface and there is a vicious streak of jealousy and self centred vanity and even intolerance. Standards of dance are not getting any better. The best in most cases is just mediocre. Spouting a few slokas here and there with the torso bent with humility which can vanish to expose claws and fangs at the slightest review of their work by able critics, the dancers (there are exceptions to the scenario) make for a scary world.

Precious time meant for dedication to arts is gone in public relations, aggressive marketing, doing the rounds of culture departments, being seen and mingling with the right people, lobbying for awards and honours, cultivating godfathers and godmothers, dining and wining with the right set of people and on it goes. So where is the time for reflection, training, expanding the horizons of one's own art? Artists seldom gift their time to their peers watching their presentations.

There is no time. "Busy and stressed out" is the mark of a successful person, while chaos and shallow vision is the mark of institutions and akademies. The Sangeet Natak Akademi has outdone itself again in presenting awards on an arbitrary criteria. Bismillah Khan awards to artists well established to be given the akademi award; overall contribution to arts and scholarship may well be given to anybody who can spell "dance," and the Bismillah Khan award to Tadepalli Satyanarayana takes the crown. The unsung star of Kuchipudi, Guru Vempati Ravi passed away never ever being considered by the Sangeet Natak Akademi for its award or by the government of India for a Padma award and he was no mean genius. Vedantam Raghava, who has left the country for good to find greener pastures in the United States of America can be termed as the mantle holder of Kuchipudi Yakshagana in this generation. If there ever was a consummate Kuchipudi Yakshagana artiste in the young generation then it is Raghava but the awards have always eluded him. We have an excellent singer and scholar in the Kuchipudi tradition in D.S.V. Sastry, a shining torch bearer of the tradition, but who cares? Of course, talents like Ravi, Raghava and Sastry are no minnows who would care to lobby or prostrate in front of the elite body which decides on the awards.

Why has the Kuchipudi Yakshagana been made into a separate category? It is a part of the repertoire of Kuchipudi. Pray, how is Tadepalli Satyanarayana eligible for any award at all? What is the body of his work? Who are the ones who recommended his name? For what has this award been bestowed upon him? This definitely calls for filing a query under the Right to Information Act.

One award given to the undeserving takes away the glory and stature of the awards itself and insults all the other deserved recipients of the awards. Nartanam therefore refuses to cover any awards henceforth.

Dance is an intangible heritage that is very important to pay lip service to. But when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility it's considered as entertainment, not as education. A Secretary of Culture asked, "Who will forever watch these dancers throwing about their limbs?" The comment partially spouts from his ignorance of dance for he has never invested the time to understand dance but at the same time he is reacting to the constant flood of mediocrity he is surrounded by. Of course we assume that this is not a corrupt official.

This issue is a special on Kalamandalam Gopi Asan. A life well lived despite the fact that he tried to take his life twice out of sheer frustration, poverty and above all the disease of alcoholism. In India, alcoholism is not understood as a disease and the alcoholic and his family are ostracized cruelly and most alcoholics die with no chance of ever sobering up. Alocholics Anonymous or Alanon are a taboo even if they are known to an ordinary mortal at all. Fighting poverty and undergoing rigorous training in an art form and above all fighting alcoholism should have ground him to dust let alone emerging as the superstar of Kathakali, a genius every Kathakali lover acknowledged for decades. Only the Government of India and the SNA were late to recognise him. And why would a stellar genius like Gopi care to lobby for an award?

We salute Gopi Asan. When we contacted the Kerala Association to inform them that Kalamandalam Gopi was going to perform in Hyderabad on 7 October 2018 and that they might pass on the news to their members, the concerned official was not impressed and bragged about how they were getting film star Mammooty for a huge function. We caught his attention only when we mentioned that Gopi had acted in a film or two.

Hail India and our ancient culture. This is not the diary of a cynic but a dispassionate account of what I observe around me. I can only end with the note that let us all gift time to small and big causes, to loving people around us, to know and nurture each other and to nourish our souls and our culture. We pray and look forward to better days on all fronts.

Madhavi Puranam is the Chief Editor of Nartanam. A trained Kuchipudi dancer, she has postgraduate degrees in Business Administration, and Performing Arts. Her book, An Indian Analysis of Aesthetics: The Dance, the Dancer and the Spectator with a foreword by Kapila Vatsyayan, was published in 2015 by Abhinav Publications, New Delhi. She is currently working on a book on Arts Management in India.

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