Don't shoot, I'm dancing!
- Dr.Susil Pani, Pondicherry
e-mail: raghuclinic@yahoo.com

September 15, 2010

I read with interest the article 'To click or not to click' written by Ranjana Dave in narthaki.com. She has rightly said that some artists are paranoid about their pictures being taken during programs, I remember Shobana (from Kerala and not Shobana Narayan) performing Bharatanatyam at Puducherry way back in 1998 and she stopped half way to announce that she would leave the stage if anyone took photos or videos with or without flash - even the official festival organizer had to stop while I had managed a couple of pictures. In most of the public festivals, people from the newspapers and channels get a free hand, so do the amateurs and professionals. But I deplore the habit of the so called news people to rush near the stage with scant regard to the general public whenever there is an interesting posture, more so in group presentations, with their flashes firing.

My observation also is that most of the pictures in many of the websites of the artists/dancers are photo shots in a studio. I have not seen many high quality photos from live programs put on their website. The reasons are many; the photographer has to have some understanding of the music and the rhythm (tala) and follow the poem/poetry/sloka/song and thus anticipate certain movements and postures to come. Then he will be prepared to get an excellent shot. It is ultimately the person behind the camera and not the equipment which gives the result.

The cd/dvd on Indian dances is to be only bought by the young student dancers or somebody doing research on dance. Most music is now available on the net as soon as they are released. The artist and the choreographer are only paid once and all the money is made by the sellers (music or DVD Company) So, who benefits? As for copying the choreography, someone who has risen to the level to do a choreography on his or her own, need not have to record, but to see it only once and the idea get recorded in the mind of the artiste. Even if it is copied and reproduced in different forms, it should be welcome. As we are in a more materialist world now, there is a fear that the other person would probably make more money by using our idea.


Responses

Dear Mr. Pani,

I saw your write-up on Narthaki. Issues of copying are what make most dancers paranoid. Also, now there is the practice of performance spaces making this decision. In Bombay, big spaces like NCPA have made it their policy - photos or videos cannot be taken according to NCPA rules. Newspeople, alas, still rush to the stage often. But about music, I don't agree with you, because even if someone recorded a soundtrack from a live performance using the best equipment, it would not be of much use in its raw form, unless it is re-recorded with a different set of musicians. Also, there is a lot of dance-friendly music on the net, but the vital 'item' based music for a basic dance repertoire is still not available freely. One can find generic tillanas and other things (and in that manner, Bharatanatyam is far ahead of the pack) but traditional dance music also differs from style to style and guru to guru. Not everyone has the means to record their own music; in the case of Odissi, the most common method is to buy the music. But the teachers I came across were particular about whom they sold the music to and often they will not sell you a piece of music if you haven't learnt the dance in question. Which is alright, because at the end of the day, music must be treated as intellectual property. But whose exactly? For instance, for students trained in Kelucharan Mohapatra's Odissi bani, the sound of Bhubaneswar Mishra's violin is a familiar one. Yet, when we attended the Odissi Festival organised by IPAP in Bhubaneswar in the year 2006, we were told that his wife was living in penury. Considering his music is used so widely, it is deplorable that his family could not benefit from the circulation of pieces of intellectual property that he has helped create.

As a student of Odissi, I have obtained music in different ways. I have purchased music from my teachers and have also been given practice and performance-quality tapes by teachers for no payment. I have no definite views when it comes to buying or receiving music, but I admit I am enamoured of the possibility of a responsible free market, where music is circulated with mutual professional respect.

Ranjana Dave
(Oct 20, 2010)



Dear Mr. Pani,

If you open the Friday Review and see some horror photos published there, you will understand why the dancers are paranoid about their pictures being taken during programs. There are hardly any adult dancers who will look good from any angle at any moment. The absolute majority, which includes of course the professional and senior dancers, are like ostriches hiding their heads in the sand: they do not wish to see how ghastly, lumpish or gawky they actually look on the stage, contrary to the image created by the well-paid reviews of their own performances. They refuse to face the reality: hardly any audience comes to watch them. I believe these dancers, as they grow older and older, start to hate to look at themselves in the mirror!

As for copying the choreography, very few have risen to the level to do a choreography on his or her own. The majority has very poor memories and are in the recycling business. If the "original" choreographer is honest enough, he or she will tell you that 95% of "their" choreography they actually borrowed from bits and pieces they saw somewhere. There is a well-known Bharatanatyam guru in Madras who decided to re-choreograph all the items performed by her young student that were being sold on DVDs (the greedy and selfish guru was tormented by the idea that other people might use "her" choreography without paying royalties). After the re-choreographing, the items looked ugly and disjointed. The popularity of this young student soared, which created a lot of envy among the school's senior students and eventually led to a total ban on this young student's video releases: not even a short fragment was allowed to appear anywhere. Only the seniormost student, who later took over the school, retained the right to release videos of her own performances, and she started uploading many complete items on the Internet. Alas, her dancing was very inferior. The talent of the young student was buried under the load of the school's politics. Many foolish people try to copy the choreography that can be performed only by physically very fit and very well trained youngsters who have a great talent for dancing. Choreography is like tailoring: your costume will not fit another dancer.

Ranjana Dave does not understand that if dance clips were circulated through YouTube and other informal means of dissemination, it would demolish most of these dancers' careers. They know very well that there is no chance they would find resonance among audiences either young or old. They bemoan a loss of audience, while refusing to understand why even stray dogs run away at the sight of their "dancing." They are complaining that the classical Bharatanatyam is dying, but what is really dying are their brain cells along with the rest of their bodies. If perishing "traditions" (which are usually less than 2-3 generations old) are our bane, why do we leave them by the wayside, to die? Because a greedy cartel of "inheritors" of these junk "traditions" earn money not from giving performances (nobody would voluntarily come and watch these anyway) but from teaching some naive foreign students. That's their business model.

Gangalakshmi Vinod, Mumbai
(Oct 26, 2010)



Dear Gangalakshmi Vinod

I was a little surprised at the harsh words used by you towards the older dancers. There is some truth to many of your observations. Now that you have raised some of the issues, I am responding to it with my own observations (although I am not qualified for that). I have seen exactly the opposite of what you have seen. There is an extremely beautiful and graceful way to get old with time, whether you are a dancer or otherwise. The grace and beauty comes from the inner state of the individual (here dancer). I have seen Chitra Visweswaran, Sudharani Raghupathy to just name a few extremely graceful in their presentation and not bothered about anything while performing. I have taken some amazing pictures of guru Sudhakar Sahoo, an unsung guru of Odissi of Debaprasad gharana, demonstrating abhinaya at Chennai in 2002.

I mention the inner state of the being of the dancer is seen in the outer form because to give one example I have seen one (name withheld) dancer perform in Feb. 2010 which was extraordinary (the atmosphere created was also very extraordinary), then again see her perform couple of weeks back at Delhi which was not up to the mark because she was going through great anguish due to sudden demise of her guru just a couple of days before this performance. Even among the younger dancers, one can see all shades and levels of performances, right from poor to extremely extraordinary. So to generalize that all old dancers behave the way you mention is not necessarily correct. Off course in the present material world everything is driven by the need of money and the idea that with more money one can survive longer and be happier, which is not true at all. More so all Indian classical dance forms are at the core spiritual.

I will also give one more example: compare the dance program at the commonwealth games and the program at the Tanjore temple with 1000 dancers. The program at the games was perfect, extremely well done, excellent synchronization of each group etc etc, which was completely absent in the dance program at Tanjore, but the atmosphere created and the feeling during the program was extremely spiritual with all grades of artists performing (from the junior most to many senior and celebrity artist performing all side by side).

Yours truly,
Dr Susil Pani
(Nov 7, 2010)