Are we amusing ourselves to death? This is a poignant question asked by Oscar winning American actor Sidney Poitier in his moving book THE MEASURE OF A MAN.
I speak of the present fascination with urban India with partying. Our national anthem has become Karan Johar’s tune “Where’s the party tonight?” In hotels, beaches, gardens, drawing rooms, art galleries, heritage spaces, poolside and parks around India wine glasses clink, hors d’ouvres circulate and air- kissing socialites hover around steaming dosa, pasta and sushi counters. Sidestepping microphone wires and large surround sound speakers, these party animals are showing up en masse, masquerading as rasikas and connoisseurs. This is the new sabha for performing artistes, the new stage for the biggest and most celebrated names in the dance, music and theatre.
A birthday, anniversary, engagement or product launch in any of the above venues is very often marked by a short music or dance concert by a BIG name. The artist is placed against a very tastefully designed backdrop of an ocean, a tree, an archway or a historic building. Tender coconut water, jeera pani or champagne welcome the guests and steaming coffee or chai is served to the ‘gown/frock/dress/kurti mami’ set. Animated discussions are sprinkled with the notes from a sarod, sitar, violin or sarangi Ankle bells and percussion beats spray the air but eyes are more focused on the other’s jewels than on the stage where the internationally acclaimed performer is dancing or singing.
If world class artistes are willing to appear at these social venues then it is also a sign that India’s cultural spaces need to be revamped. Except for a handful, most theatres have ear splitting acoustics, bad seating and negligent parking. Fees are always low and accommodations very modest. In a well planned social event, valet parking and even dinner for the chauffeurs is included. Add to that a stream of A listers who are a blend of politicians, foodies, writers, filmstars and socialites. Throw in a good pay packet and you have the winning formula. Artistes would much rather accept these socio-cultural invitations since visibility is high and artistic demands thin. The emphasis is on holding the attention of the distracted urbanite.
Well heeled corporates now find themselves anointed as new age impresarios . Fortunately some are sensitive aesthetes and genuinely interested in the arts. However, culture is the sandwich filling between drinks and dinner. Thoughtful and sensitive work is being crowded out by the juggernaut of spectacle. Art is now a Tari-kita-tom Time Pass!!