The annual Carnatic music and dance festival during the month of Margazhi, that had been limited to online concerts and performances for almost two years, has found itself unleashed in a big manner in 2022.
The series of events that take place during this season, which is said to be one of the hallmarks of Chennai’s cultural calendar, is something that both the artistes and the rasikas look forward to in a big way.
It’s a time when the stage is set, not just for well-known doyens in the Carnatic space, but even for young ingénues and shishyas, who use this festival as an occasion to earn some well-deserved plaudits from their gurus.
Having said that, the performances that are emblematic of this season and conducted within the haloed confines of some of the most revered sabhas in Chennai, have often come under fire for catering only to a certain strata of upwardly mobile, socially elite communities in Chennai as opposed to being an all-encompassing free for all community festival that it promises to be.
Allegations of bias have risen from even within the performer circles, where a few institutions have been called out for their lack of transparency when it comes to the assignment of slots for performances, or even the distribution of tickets, which in many cases is still done the old fashioned way.
In fact, a few years ago, having grown weary of this self-serving strain of elitism that was creeping into the Margazhi festival, a group of acclaimed Carnatic artistes decided to take some decisive measures to democratise music and give it back to the people.
Singers like TM Krishna were at the forefront of this movement where they chose to bypass the ticketed, sabha centric concerts and instead perform on the beachfront in the fisherman’s colony in Besant Nagar. The backlash was inevitable as several purists derided the musician for diluting the essence of something as pure as Carnatic into something as easily palatable as mass music.
It might seem like a moot point to cherry pick individual musicians and lambast them for their efforts in mainstreaming something that was until much recently considered a vestige of the privileged.
The manner in which folk artistes in Tamil Nadu are languishing due to the absence of patronage, ample opportunities and publicity is yet anther reminder of how myopic our idea of cultural and heritage preservation is. Even as CM Stalin urged artistes to preach unity in diversity through their arts, the fate of the artistes themselves hangs in the balance.
The Eyal Isai Nataka Manram, formerly known as the Tamil Nadu Sangeet Nataka Sangam has found itself in the eye of a storm as numerous complaints and petitions have been forwarded by artistes and artiste associations against the government body.
The artistes ere gearing up for the Namma Ooru Thiruvizha festival, which will continue until the Pongal holidays. However, here as well, they are beset by problems such as the absence of a transparent selection and performance booking system.
The problem is acute when seen in the context of underprivileged folk artistes who depend on such fora for their livelihood, and do not have a Plan B, to fall back on.
Obviously, there are shortcomings in the way we have curated our cultural festivals so far. They seem to be put together in an ad-hoc fashion by a few individuals with vested interests, whose worldviews do not have anything in common with that of the multitude.
We could certainly do a lot better than this. Rather than a tokenism like granting paltry sums in funding, what we need is a state specific think tank comprising artistes, and cultural and policy experts who can put forth an action plan to bridge the chasm separating where we are and where we need to be, on democratising the arts.