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Con job


The IPL opening ceremony has come in for some severe criticism, largely because of its being very ‘Bollywood’. But there is no accounting for tastes, the organisers might say. The question is: Do Indians really like seeking Bollywood stars dancing and lip-synching medleys of film songs? Particularly, when the choreography is not very good, nor the performances up to the mark! Merely the presence of the star, contemptuously going through the moves, is expected to please the audience.
Critics would point out that the obsession with Bollywood, which extends way beyond merely opening ceremonies, could end with a shift in tastes, leaving an entire industry built upon the genre without a means of livelihood. Today, every city and town has ‘dance-teachers’, who would not be able to distinguish between Kathak and Kathakali, training young children in the strange ‘khichdi’ of styles that passes for dance in films. Bollywood can make it work, merely because it works hard, keeps a close watch on trends and shamelessly plagiarises. However, for want of an alternative perspective on culture, the multi-splendoured content of Indian culture is being dangerously ignored. As such, events like the opening ceremonies are becoming more obviously tacky and superficial. International events like the Commonwealth Games, the IPL, even the Republic Day Parade could do with better quality performances.
One recalls the opening ceremony of the 1982 Asian Games, which had someone like Pt Ravi Shankar compose the welcome song. It has proved to be a classic. The government had been smart enough to tap into India’s deep cultural traditions, and the performances by tribals and others came as a surprise and source of great pride even to Indians. It is a mistake to believe that India needs to perform caricatures of western music and dance to impress the global community. They see it for the kitsch it is. Nobody would voluntarily be involved – from Salman Khan to the foreign players in the various teams – if they were not being paid huge amounts of money.
Indian society, or at least the paying classes, seems to be passing through an ‘instant gratification’ phase. The marketing folk certainly seem to think so, which is why even ‘serious’ things like journalism are being dressed up and it has becoming usual to cast all caution to the winds just to get that momentary hit with a sensational but unsubstantiated headline, or even with dramatic background music in the case of news channels. Audiences, readers and viewers are treated like morons, requiring to be spoon-fed even their thoughts and attitudes. What they don’t seem to realise is that even ‘nonsense’ and tabloid journalism requires a high-standard of artistry to be sustainable. True that making money is the objective of much of these enterprises, but it cannot be done without the respect the basic activity requires. The attitude of the IPL organisers of merely ‘paying’ for the entertainment indicates they are not concerned enough about maintaining high standards. It would be tragic for a great marquee if the same approach is adopted in managing the tournament – it should not become just about ‘spending and earning’.
The government has a major role in maintaining the balance. It needs to be a patron of the arts in a way that goes beyond merely making financial allocations. It has to be the upholder of tradition, the classics, the conservative approach so that the many activities threatened by the market’s neglect do not entirely die out even if they are diminished. In fact, even the initiatives taken as a matter of course are beginning to smell like roses, such as DD Bharti, the Rajya and Lok Sabha TVs, etc. The cultural departments in the states ought also to persevere by providing at least a basic platform for those struggling to preserve traditions out of love for them, even though they no longer offer a living. It would go a long way in helping the common people distinguish between a good performance and just a con job.