Friday, 27 March 2015

Criticism, malice and slander

By V Ramnarayan

A recent article in Sruti by a Bharatanatyam dancer seems to be a cry in anguish, a lament over the less than inspiring atmosphere in which our classical arts are seen to be performed. To quote the blogger, "The arts scene, especially in India, sometimes feels like Hollywood. We, as a society, pride ourselves on having resurrected the status of Art from when it was looked down upon and disrespected. It has its origin in worship, and even though it has moved from ritual to performance, we still proclaim it to be sacred. But look at the way it is talked about and perceived now. Besides the rampant politics, it is sensationalist and it is a “scene” where an words like “diva” are thrown around. Constructive criticism is often replaced by sarcasm and even malice."

The writer continues: ''What happens to art in all this? Where is the reverence? Is it possible to find beauty and silence in all this chatter? Is it possible to feel transformation for both the rasika and the artist, amidst all this noise?'' And again, ''Why are opinions valued so much? Immediately after a performance, what is most important to the artist? How he or she felt about the experience? Or what everyone else thought?''

Unfortunately, it is not only the so-called critics and rasikas who tend to vitiate the atmosphere with below-the-belt comments thrown away casually, with no regard for the feelings or reputation of their victims. Sometimes artists are themselves guilty of launching such unethical attacks on their colleagues and, in their eyes, their rivals. The discourse has sunk to an unacceptable low in the recent past.

No one is immune from such scurrilous assaults, it seems. Magazines are not, for sure, to go by some of the virulence launched at us on occasion. After we put one of our topnotch musicians on the cover a couple of years ago, one correspondent who should have known better, given his considerable age, asked us if we were financed by said artist. We drew his attention to the libel laws of the land, after which silence has reigned. In his defence, it could be said that he perhaps did not fancy the music of that particular artist, or that he liked some other musician's music more. 

Much worse has been the bile directed at us after another cover story apparently riled an artist (not the subject of the cover story, but a fellow artist) so much that we have been accused of favouritism and much worse. And this, when we carry our commitment to impartiality and fairness to such extremes that other critics find us dull. Of course, the word ''artist'' is used in a loose sense here, for jealousy, cynicism and malice cannot an artist make, we are sure.

On another occasion, an author who merrily slandered musicians in print, took such strong objection to our mild criticism of his efforts that he described us as the Mylapore mafia. An artist-cum-critic we did not feature and therefore felt neglected called us a provincial magazine for that reason. Hell hath no fury like a performer scorned!

Wonder what Bharata--of Natya Sastra fame--whom every artiste swears by had to say about all this.

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