Task Force on Cultural and Creative Industries: A discussion.
Mr. Rajeev Sethi, Vice-Chairperson, Task Force on Cultural and Creative Industries had written to me asking me for comments on the Performing Arts. I had sent a few comments to Mr. Sethi, who called back and suggested we take our discussion forward and also invite comments from other artistes. He has very kindly agreed that my reply to him be made known to all of you, who, I am certain will have many suggestions and comments and questions to offer, all of which will make this discussion vibrant and meaningful. Please do write in and use this space to discuss and argue. To post comments on the blog, you will need to register once and after that you can add your comments at your convenience. Please forward this message to others who may find this discussion interesting.
Here is my reply to Mr. Sethi:
As I said to you on the phone, I dont know if any of my comments would prove to be worthy of inclusion in the Report being compiled by the Taskforce on Cultural and Creative Industries, but I am listing some points below for you to go through. Please do let me know if you need clarifications or additional information on any of these points.
1. I think it is imperative that the next census report gives us a detailed and accurate demographic report on the number of performing artists (as well as those involved in activities related to the performing arts such as instrument makers) in the country. No data, if indeed any such exists, is available to us currently, and it should not be difficult to estimate how important such data would be in planning any strategies that would benefit people in the cultural and creative industries. If you are unaware of the number of people you are hoping to help, how can you even begin to think of ways and means to help them or create a better environment for them to work in? As far as I can remember, for the last census count, I was only asked to state my profession and the options provided left me with no choice but to select “Self -Employed”. Do we think so little of Artistes that we dont even bother to include a category for them?
2. With virtually no support from the music industry, classical musicians and musicians playing traditional music are left with hardly any recording opportunities. Those that somehow get recording opportunities usually do so at a heavy price – they are made to sell their work for virtually no compensation as well as surrender their rights to a label worldwide and in perpetuity for virtually nothing in return. While these tales of exploitation are age-old and well known, the result is tragic – hardly any new recordings of traditional music are being commissioned by music labels in the country. Why is it not possible for the government to offer an incentive and subsidy to groups and organizations that are ready to offer support to traditional arts and music? If Ayurvedic medicine is exempted from excise and tax duties such as VAT, is it not possible to suggest and perhaps even demand such an exemption for the performing arts? CDs and albums of traditional music must be encouraged before it is too late, and therefore must be made tax free as far as possible.
3. I think it is also very necessary for the Government to state without any ambiguity its stand on traditional arts. It cannot give with one arm and take away with the other. While we discuss schemes and strategies for the betterment of creative and cultural industries with the government, elsewhere organizations like Prasar Bharati are doing their best to strike the last proverbial nail in the performers’ coffin. All India Radio and Doordarshan have for long been considered important national patrons of the performing arts. And yet today they reverse their commitment to music and dance by slashing budgets for programming drastically, even by as much as an enormous 60 %. Worse, they now have commercial slots for sale where a musician is expected to buy time from All India Radio to broadcast his/her own music! Today, for as little as 3 to 5 thousand rupees, anyone can buy 30 minutes of prime broadcasting time in a specified region and could broadcast their music, whether or not is worthy of broadcast. All the talk about ‘sabhyataa’, ‘sanskriti’ and ‘dharohar’ – terms that are so often used to pay lip service to the cultural heritage of India come crashing down when Prasar Bharati decides to do away with support for the arts. With this one act, thousands of peformers have been deprived of perhaps one of the few opportunities to share their work with the nation.
4. It would also be advisable to discuss at the earliest, complex issues regarding protection of traditional knowledge. Bollywood and Hollywood are among the many users of traditional Indian music, and while I have not the slightest doubt that in using or adapting traditional music for use in films they do not intend to appropriate musical knowledge and repertoire unfairly, I draw your attention to the fact that we have not really thought of how we could protect communities and individuals that are custodians of traditional artistic knowledge. Take the classic example of a song like “nimbuda nimbuda’ which was used by Sanjay Leela Bhansali in his blockbuster film “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”. The composer, Ismail Durbar won several awards for the song, but not once did he bother to even acknowledge that the song was part of Langa-Manganiyar repertoire. Surely, Sanjay Leela Bhansali (who spent crores of rupees on the making of the film) and Ismail Durbar did not want to rob the Langa-Manganiyar communities of their due, but if they had bothered to acknowledge them and compensate them, where and to whom would the money have gone? Is there any way to pay royalties or license fee to a community? And who is to decide what is traditional or community knowledge? Do we say that a ‘bandish’ is traditional if it has been around for over 50 years? Or should it be 100 years old? This debate and discussion is necessary, not to put proprietorial locks on traditional knowledge, but to make it possible for the young to draw upon traditional knowledge in an ethical way.
5. Which brings me to the example cited by you of Gulabo’s appearance on an MTV show. Rajeev, Gulabo must be given the independenct artistic choice of appearing on MTV if she wants to do so. But, she must also be given the space to project her work as she wants, not as per the dictates of MTV or Channel V or for that matter, any other party who would like to feature her only as ethnic exotica. Today, traditional arts are often left with no option but to move with the ‘behti Ganga’ so to say, and perform with fusion bands, and other performers who have greater public recognition and acceptance. Should they do so willingly and out of artistic choice, it would be a perfect collaboration. But if they were forced to do so only for 5 minutes of television fame, or merely for the sake of a performance opportunity, it would be a pity. Spaces for collaboration, as well as spaces for traditional and conventional performance have to be nurtured and expanded.
I am afraid I have already said too much Rajeev, so I wont go on any longer lest you delete this message without reading it!