February 1, 2010
Our 60th Republic Day is behind us and the annual Padma awards have been announced. After all the congratulations and discussions about the list of awardees from Tamilnadu, it is now time to reflect on those artistes who have not yet been handed this coveted Lotus.
Over the past few years, the ratio of awardees in the arts from this state has consistently dropped. Achievers in medicine, sports, education and industry have claimed their rightful place on the national map, demonstrating the new and modern Tamilnadu that has gone beyond the time honoured image of Kanjeevaram saris, Carnatic music, filter kaapi and Bharatanatyam.
Padma Shri awardees Sudharani Raghupathy and Chitra Visweswaran recollected the era when the national awards selections were not so vitiated by politics. There was a time when many politicians were arts connoisseurs and merit did actually count for something. Well times have changed or else why would a little known French dancer called Devayani (who. who?) based in Delhi, walk away with this honour last year while dance veterans like MK Saroja, CV Chandrasekhar and Lakshmi Viswanathan from Chennai have not yet been awarded? The magnificent 82 year old Kathak guru Maya Rao from Bengaluru waits patiently, or does she care any more if she finally gets it? After so many years of waiting, the dynamic Dhananjayans were finally honoured last year. The dance community sighed in relief. The honour to the octogenarian firebrand educationist and arts impresario Mrs. Rashmi Parthasarthy comes too late but at least it has finally arrived. There are numerous brilliant artistes waiting for the nod from up north and perhaps may never get the attention they deserve in their lifetime.
On Republic Day, January 26, Times Now channel broadcast a short film PHIR MILE SUR on the 60th anniversary of the Indian Republic. Cine fame Padma Shri Shobana represented Bharatanatyam. Her high octane 'pop-fizz' natyam with colourful costumes against a historic backdrop was perfect for the film medium. Balancing her was Bollywood choreographer Shiamak Davar who ended the segment with his arm wrapped awkwardly around Shobana in the joint 'alapadma' (lotus) hasta. Filmi Natyam Jai Ho!
In dance and theatre, a national honour means much more than in other fields like industry, cinema and sports. Dancers are almost never recognized as brand ambassadors for fashion or jewellery labels (Shobana is an exception due to her filmi history). The present cultural scenario in India does not recognize any other relationship but feudal patronage and subservient behaviour between artiste and patron.
While cinema, sports and fashion are saturated with earning opportunities outside the main arena of activity, dancers and theatre actors are at the bottom of the money totem pole. Musicians, Carnatic and Hindustani, have many recording labels and very healthy investment portfolios but dance is another story altogether. All other art forms have a product to show at the end of the artistic journey. The musician has a CD, the artist a painting, a sculptor his sculpture, a writer a book. The dancer has a DVD which is never ideal or perfect as a mode of commercial enterprise. Dance is also the most expensive of the performing arts to create, perform and sustain, with the shortest life span. With not much to look forward to in terms of a professional arts management and independent dance agencies, at least a timely Padma award is the least that our brilliant dancers can expect. Getting it too late means that the fragrance dies and the petals wilt!