Song of Surrender

Thursday, 23 February 2012

New wave Chennai season

(First published 12 October 2004)

By V. Ramnarayan

One of the worst features of the Chennai music and dance scene over the years has been the ugly distraction provided at cutcheris by the ubiquitous advertisement banners and stage backdrops, the price the audiences perforce pay for sponsorship of these concerts by business houses.

The sabhas too love to splash their names in bold print and garish colours and the result is a complete lack of aesthetic appeal. Sruti magazine is one agency that has been highly critical of such trends but its voice has rarely been heeded.

The sabha secretaries invariably blame it on the need to give their patrons visibility and mileage in return for their generous support, without which the conduct of concerts and festivals would not become viable.

In recent years, The Other Festival, Anita Ratnam’s pioneering venture featuring performances from diverse streams of dance, theatre and music from all over the world, has broken away from some of our hidebound conventions of theatrical presentation, achieving an altogether refreshing new aesthetic experience. Her Arangham Trust has succeeded in persuading sponsors not to insist on banners and other promotional displays at the concert venue.

Last year, The Hindu Friday Review music festival too presented a new look festival ambience far removed from the old sabha culture.

But change invariably brings new problems with it. The sponsors have to be appeased in other ways than the tried and tested formula of gaudy banners. So we had a master of ceremonies who did a daily spiel on the grandeur of the fare offered, but not before extolling the generosity of the sponsors who made it all possible. He coaxed and cajoled the audience to put their hands together in applause, and thought up novel ways of asking them to switch off their mobile phones. We also watched the wondrous spectacle of commercials before the concerts and during the interval - brilliantly produced and orchestrated, but not quite what the regular concert-goer expected. The Other Festival too provided similar diversions.

The day may not be far when the ad agencies of Chennai invade our sabha halls with their sophisticated, state-of-the-art promotionals before and after concerts. Before long we may even listen to announcements that a certain alapana or ragam tanam pallavi was brought to us courtesy so and so sponsor.

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