Urban spaces for performing arts can help build identity – Jan 8, 2012
Today has been a fulfilling sort of day. I spent three hours this morning practising for a small show our music group is putting up at our teacher’s place on Basant Panchami, when Saraswati Puja is also held. The planned program sounds wonderful- a small puja, short performance and traditional Bengali bhog comprising khichudi, baigun bhaaja and payesh! Some students are volunteering to help in the cooking, others in setting up the place, and all of us will sing.
Now I’m not a Bengali, but my teacher is and so are several students. Yet I am thrilled by the idea of reviving a simple cultural tradition in an urban setting (Gurgaon of course!) whose cultural landscape is largely bland and blank!
We’re going to do this on the rooftop on my teacher’s home, and praying to the Gods to not send rain on the 28th of January (please! please!). We’re on a limited budget, so tenting is out of question. We’ve been discussing for weeks the possibility of doing a more rehearsed larger scale performance and exploring venues in the city. Formal auditoriums like Epicentre and Power Grid are prohibitively expensive. Smaller spaces for performing arts simple do not exist in the city yet, or at least we don’t know of them.
There is an urgent need for such spaces, available and accessible to the public. Like pubs and restaurants encourage rock and indie bands by creating spaces where gigs can be put up, we need other spaces where Indian music, dance and theatre can be performed too. Take a summer trip in Europe and you commonly see performances in public spaces. Indian art forms, however, need more of a setting and some innovation (in terms of design) and organization (in terms of initiative, collaborations, etc) to be able to flourish in our cities. Open air amphitheatres, courtyards where a backdrop can be created against a wall, neighborhood cultural centers, RWA halls, any of these can work. If weddings can occupy galis, why not cultural evenings?
I don’t buy the argument that there is no market/audience for Indian performing arts. Because we are neglecting to nurture these arts, young people do not see them being performed. The lesser the exposure, the less the willingness to understand and appreciate. Because the youth frequent malls, restaurants and pubs where western arts (piano players, rock bands, etc) are being performed, the exposure and acceptance and therefore demand, is more. Of course so is the perceived value that western music is hipper, more with it!
There is an obvious market for Indian light music (Sufi, film-based, ghazal), but even these can be only seen live at ticketed (few and far between) performances or exclusive private shows like brand launches, parties in a place like Gurgaon (and perhaps most cities other than the metros). Perhaps this popularity can be leveraged to push classical arts as well. I often visualize venues where a mix of light and classical performances can be held (free or at minimal cost), adjacent to a market, art bazaar, food court and other sundry attractions. Can there be a sponsor-subsidized model to do this, offering branding opportunities and quality recreation at the same time?
Above all, such efforts will contribute greatly to foster a more rooted, culture-sensitive society that has a stronger sense of identity and more robust concepts of what their Indian-ness entails (over the India Shining image that we cling to while at the same time rubbishing everything around us!). Amidst all the transformations that we are seeing in India today, it is imperative on us to address this identity issue as well, and urban spaces for the arts can go a long way in doing so!