Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Towards transparency norms

By Bala Shankar
The music season is slowly acquiring industrial proportions. Sponsorships of `10 lakh and `20 lakh are being bandied about. Banner makers are busier than ever. The media is in the thick of it. Sabhas are taking a cue from BCCI. CPL may follow IPL.
It used to be a tough job to be a sabha organizer in the past. Making both ends meet was a challenge. This is no more the case. Nanganallur has 3 or 4 sabhas, every other suburb has its own and the Mylapore enclave has swollen money chests, according to the grapevine. A second tier sabha well known in its league, apparently budgets a `75 lakh festival every year and romps home with plenty.
No one is complaining though, not even the rasikas who sometimes pay `500 for a concert, only to be told to squat on the stage that offers little room for lazy manoeuvres or an involuntary yawn. Artiste remuneration has leapfrogged and Carnatic music suddenly seems to be a viable first profession, even if it is only for a chosen few.
As for the sabhas, the clamour for financial accountability is not far behind. Any organization which collects money from the public and sponsors owes it to them. How do we know for sure that the money is well spent? If you look at the condition of a few leading sabhas, not all is well on the expenditure side of the chart. Rasikas sometimes pay `500 and `1000 to listen to accompanying sounds of rainwater and bus horns, if they have a seat on land and not on water. Audio systems still bear the 1960 marks. A coat of paint and a visit by the decorator prior to the season are about the best spruce up you would come across. For a `50 ticket, you can enjoy the best seats in airconditioned comfort with Dolby digital effect and more, if you go to a cinema. Cinema and live music don’t compare, but in audience experience terms, they can be made to.
Not all artistes are well paid. The scales are so hush hush that neither the well paid nor the lowly paid want to talk about it. Rumours make the news here. Service industries have norms of what percentage of revenues goes towards remuneration, how much for upkeep of facilities and upgrades. Do sabhas have such norms? Barring a tiny crop of organizations, the accounts are not in the public domain. They need to be. The paying public and the artistic community deserve this courtesy. As individual sponsorships have given way to corporate support, this is even more imperative. This public scrutiny is a first step to better governance standards as well. Right now, the less said about it, the better, as sabhas are largely fiefdoms of families and coteries. They need to wake up sooner rather than later.

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