Landlords ki dadagiri

Most of us have had a relationship with a landlord (or landlady. Here I use the term ‘landlord’ for both) at some point in our lives (unless you’re super privileged and have lived in your own house forever) – and I am yet to meet a person who did not have a single issue with his/her lanlord. Renting a house in India isn’t easy, not to say that it’s easy in other countries, but here it’s not just the legal paperwork that’s exhausting, it’s the tyrannical and dictatorial attitude of landlords towards their tenants that’s even more exhausting. As a tenant, your life doesn’t become easy the moment you sign that lease; the misery continues for as long as you live in someone else’s house.

Although I have had and heard many horrible experiences, I’m only going to focus on the ones that enraged me the most. Technically, once the lease is signed, the house belongs to the tenant for the time period mentioned. The landlord cannot enjoy the freedoms that he/she used to in regard to the house, i.e, cannot dictate the tenant’s schedule, who they meet, what they eat, who comes to the house or ask to keep a spare key to the house. Let me reiterate – this is illegal. Infact, even to visit the premises the landlord needs to give a 24-hour notice to the tenant, and make a visit only if it is convenient for both. However, in reality, this does not happen. Recently, a close relative of mine shared her horrific experience with her ex-landlord with me. Initially when they (she and her friends) rented the apartment, the landlord and his family seemed nice, but life became hell for them when they started living there. They kept an eye on everything they did, and poked their noses whenever they could. “Too many friends are visiting”, “Too many get-togethers”, “Too many boys”, “Too many beer bottles” etc. This bickering and interference became a daily routine. Note that a landlord cannot impose social or moral restrictions on the tenant. They can only raise concerns if permissible noise levels are being crossed, or if severe damage is being done to the property. That too, has to be communicated in a respectful manner. Trying to moral police a tenant simply because he/she has rented out one’s premises is not just illegal, it’s plain wrong.

The landlord also charged them more on the electricity bill than he should have. If the government electricity bill states Rs. x/unit of electricity, he charged them Rs. x+3/unit of electricity. Which, once again, is illegal and also a form of bullying. The point that is being made here is – ‘it’s my house, so I will do what I want, when I want and how I want’. Eventually, they decided to vacate the house, but on the day they were supposed to vacate, he locked them inside the house until they cleared all the dues. All this amounts to harassment, and ideally they should have filed a police complaint against him. But due to our conditioning and social pressures, we generally avoid getting involved with the police.

In another instance, a girl was refused to be given a house on rent simply because she is muslim. Rejecting someone on the basis of their religion sounds unfair, disrespectful and shameful, but then there are also people who reject prospective tenants on the basis of the food they eat. Some landlords don’t want tenants who eat non-vegetarian food. Some don’t want single men/women. Some have a problem with drinking and smoking. Some have a problem with the company people work at. Some have a problem with caste. Some don’t want friends of the opposite sex to visit. Some don’t want pets. Some have a problem with skin color. Some have a problem with living.

What irks me the most is the amount of entitlement that exists within every landlord. Most of this behavior is illegal, and if not illegal then just plain wrong and disrespectful. But unfortunately we live in a country where owning a property makes you a king (or a queen) and automatically grants you powers you ought not to have. If laws were implemented properly, and tenant rights were taken seriously, then a lot of us wouldn’t have to compromise on a daily basis with our self-respect and way of life. Unfortunately, even the cops side with the landlords in most cases. It is always the tenant who is harassed and bullied.

I am not trying to dismiss the fact that even tenants misbehave and sometimes cause destruction, but the problems I listed above are not a result of bad experiences, they’re a product of a shitty mindset propagated through generations. Patriarchy, misogyny, racism, classism, casteism, ageism, colorism – they all exist in our society and are deeply rooted. So naturally, these social evils come out even in transactional relationships like the ones between a landlord and tenant.

You would think that it’s 2020 and we might have made some progress. But in reality, we’re decaying as a society everyday.

No support for artists?

I have been talking about this for quite some time now. There is absolutely no support infrastructure for budding artists and companies. If an artist wants to put up a show, the biggest challenge they face is to gather an audience. They can somehow manage to find a space to rehearse, other artists to collaborate with and look after other logistics. But what does one do when it comes to attracting audiences who would be interested in consuming their art? There is of course the most obvious issue – the social one. We in India, simply don’t have a culture where audiences are interested in paying for art (of any kind) Our mindset is still stuck at… arts mein kya rakha hai. Engineering karo. Mind you, there is a huge difference between arts and entertainment. Unfortunately in our country the two are always used interchangeably. We simply do not think that dance, theatre and/or any kind of performing arts is worthy of our money. We would rather pay to watch Bigg Boss on television.

It will take a lot of time for this kind of mentality to change. It requires a revolution. Some people are constantly making efforts to change it, and will continue to do so. However there are certain other issues too that contribute to the lack of development or betterment of our Industry – one of them being lack of support from the corporate sector. A platform like BookMyShow, that holds monopoly over ticketing, offers absolutely no support to small outfits who are trying to organize events independently. We recently organized our event, and decided to tie up with BMS for ticketing because of their huge market. Obviously, we agreed to their terms in regard to the commission. But it doesn’t end there. They also charge a “convenience fee” or “Internet handling” fee which is to be paid by the end user during the booking process. Basically, they earn revenue from the organizer as well as the customer. Now, as per the information released by RBI (thanks to an RTI filed by Vijay Gopal), this internet handling fees is, infact, not legal (falls in the grey areas) and is in violation of MDR regulations. This charge needs to be paid by the merchant to the bank, and not the user (Trust me, as a business we pay it too) but organizations like BookMyShow make the users pay it.

This aside, we also wanted to do some extra marketing in collaboration with them – for which they said their minimum package was for Rs. 25,000 – in which they would merely promote a facebook post and it would run until the budget exhausts. No featured posts. No mention in the newsletter. I respectfully declined because, quite frankly, we just didn’t have the money and running a promotional campaign on facebook is something we could have done ourselves too.

Basically, (a) their additional charges are a deterrent for audiences to come watch live shows, (b) organizers think a hundred times before buying their promotional packages because they’re so damn expensive and (c) organizers also have to pay them a share of the ticket sales revenue as commission. Oh, and if its a free event, you have to pay them a fixed amount per seat because they don’t host events for free on their website.

All in all, not a very good deal for smaller outfits. Profit to door ki baat hai, aise toh costs bhi cover nahi hongi. And absolutely NO guarantee that a minimum number of tickets will definitely be sold. You could do all this and still be performing in an empty auditorium.

Other big corporate houses do have CSR, but they only offer their schemes to NGOs or companies, not to individuals. Its very difficult then, as an individual, to get any kind of support from these organizations for any venture. So many artists in our country are suffering everyday, working for a measly amount of Rs. 1200 for a 12-hour shoot. They end up scrounging for work in places they don’t want to – wedding choreographies, corporate events, school events, ad shoots etc. Some of these dancers are extremely well-trained and have invested years in their training. Yet, they end up struggling for a very long time.

What we need is a massive overhaul in the overall social outlook and corporate social responsibility. We need more support from the government and society as a whole to flourish. Performing arts is in India’s fabric, let’s not let it die.

Skeletons in the closet

We all have our demons that we battle with, every single day. This battle takes away a fair share of energy and mental peace. We live in times where it seems everyone is at unrest. Everyone is struggling with too many things humanely possible to handle. But somehow we do. Every single day.

I have been dealing with anxiety since I was a kid, been taking medication for almost 8 years now. I was also recently diagnosed with Borderline personality disorder – an illness that is debilitating and draining at the same time. Needless to say, I live with a lot of weight on my chest every single day. This weight doesn’t just come from my illness and anxiety though – it comes from certain bad decisions that have stayed with me like ghosts under my pillow. Their shadow follows me around everywhere, never letting me forget the error of my ways.

Certain situations become so messy and complicated that they render your ability to differentiate between right and wrong completely useless. You feel numb, almost like an inanimate item being flung around without truly understanding what’s happening. It’s only once the dust settles that you realize what the storm destroyed in it’s wake. What can you do then? Besides looking around and lamenting at the fact that things went wrong? How do you undo a bad decision?

This is very hard to write about, but I need to start acknowledging what has happened so that I can find ways to overcome it. Also because – hiding and living under a rock does no good when you’re trying to deal with the ramifications of something. It’s best to face your fears, actions (good or bad), feelings and thoughts head on. Fearing them will only make the burden worse.

It’s hard living with this burden. After years of mulling over it and thinking about what to do, I finally decided to do something to undo that bad decision. Will it work? I don’t know. I am not sure. But I will go to bed every night knowing that I tried to retrace my steps and fix it. If there is a silver lining, it it this – I don’t stop fighting for the right thing until the right thing is done. It has been long overdue. If I want to shed some of the weight off my chest, I will have to make sure the right thing is done.

I will keep trying.

The problem with Kabir Singh (and it’s director)

Kabir singh

Kabir Singh has become a smashing success, owing to it’s insecure and misogynistic massive fans. People who derive great pleasure from watching a man toy with a woman like she is an object, and direct her life as per his wishes. What’s more, to watch the same woman actually dance to his tunes happily and then call it love, was the cherry on the cake. According to the director of the film, that’s true and passionate lowwee. Because afterall, if you cannot touch your woman wherever you want, slap each other casually – then is there something even there?

Any mentally healthy person will advise this guy to go get some help, and get his ideas about love straight. But then I went onto twitter and youtube and read some of the most vile comments I have read in my entire life. I realized then that this country is full of people like him, and actually consider this heroism and bravery.

What exactly is so wrong with Kabir Singh and Arjun Reddy? First of all, let me make one thing clear – there is absolutely nothing wrong with the portrayal of flawed characters. In fact it makes for a much more interesting viewing. What IS wrong though, is the validation and glorification of such characters. To depict these characters through the template of a “hero”, is a problem. When people clap at his assholery, bad decisions, wrong choices and horrible behavior – it IS a problem. And most people will take away validation from the film – not the fact that he is a flawed character whose traits are not to be emulated.

There are a few arguments in support of the film saying – What about films like Wolf of the wall street? There, too, the protagonist was an asshole and got away with his wrongdoings with minimal punishment. Well, quite honestly, I don’t know about others – but the way the film had been made, it made me absolutely hate the character. I didn’t think the gaze of the film glorified him or his actions. The film itself was good, but the character was deplorable and the film made sure he was hated, because that’s what he deserved. Most of the people who watched Kabir Singh absolutely loved his character and felt he was “ballsy”, “honest” and “brave”. In fact it’s the feminists who are now being abused and trolled (yet again) for having issues with the film. Not a single supporter of the film has a problem with the character of Kabir Singh. So how is it not problematic when a sexist, sadistic and mentally unhinged character is worshiped?

Another argument in favor of the film is – so what if Kabir slapped Preeti? Preeti slapped him a couple of times too! Well let me say this loud and clear – they’re BOTH wrong. Nobody in a relationship has the right to abuse the other. Even when you’re in an intimate relationship, there is a certain boundary that needs to be respected.

When I started watching this interview, I couldn’t watch it for more than 5 minutes. Seriously, what is this man on? This is an unhinged guy who casually justifies domestic violence and physical abuse and calls it “love”. This is a guy who has absolutely no regard for any critique of his work and calls everyone who has a different opinion than his own, ‘psuedo’. He body-shames people and attacks them personally simply because they didn’t like his film. I don’t think he even thinks that Kabir Singh is a flawed character – as per his ideas, he is the personification of the purest form of love! These are the kind of people who are going to make mainstream films now?

I don’t say such films or such characters should be depicted on-screen. That’s the whole point of freedom of expression – to be able to express one’s ideas without censorship. But I do think that glorification of such toxic masculinity is a problem, especially since Indian audiences are so impressionable. If there were ever a society that had difficulties in differentiating between cinema and reality, it would be ours. We are so heavily influenced by what we watch onscreen. We believe the character IS the actor and vice versa. If Kabir Singh hadn’t been depicted as the hero, or if he didn’t end up with the girl in the end, or if he actually faced the consequences of his actions in the end – it wouldn’t be such a bad film. The film essentially gave him the clean chit for everything he did PLUS a happily ever after too.

P.S – Is it true that this kind of toxic masculinity and warped sense of romance is commonplace in the south Indian film industry? Perhaps that is why Arjun Reddy wasn’t met with so much criticism? However I do remember watching OK Kanmani in 2015 and thinking that Bollywood has a long way to go!

What has changed?

I recently came across this video.

It shows a man uncontrollably abusing another man because he was walking his dog. He is almost about to hit the dog-owner. This is happening in one of the posh localities of Gurgaon – Sector 48. It made my blood boil like nothing else. What is the kind of world we are living in? Where these rich and entitled goons consider the road to be their private property, and enforce their own set of rules on every citizen? Where a few people consider themselves to be above the law and feel they have the right to control what others can or cannot do? Which brings me back to the original question – what has changed in our country? Or rather, what has changed for the better? Other than massive concrete jungles being constructed around us, what has truly changed from within? Has the mind changed? Have the beliefs changed?

What the hell is the point of so much education if we cannot even behave in a civil, humane manner with other human beings? How is education changing anything? Gurgaon, specially, is full of such uncouth, unchained bastards who inherited a lot of money from their parents and never bothered to spend it on their own betterment as people. Now, they stink of money and ill-manners all the time. These are the people who drive on roads as if it belonged to their forefathers. They cut lines and queues, and bully people around to get what they want. They abuse like it’s their mother tongue and have no respect for any other human being, leave alone living being.

As far as the law is concerned, the Animal Welfare Board of India on 26th February 2015 released a circular clearly stating that while pet-owners are advised to clean up after their pets and not leave their excreta behind, absolutely NO ONE can stop them from walking their dogs in public areas like parks, roads etc. NO ONE can force a pet-owner to abandon his/her pet(s) and neither can a landlord evict a person because of their pets. Recently, Punjab and Haryana courts passed a judgement assigning the status of “legal persons” to all animals. This was done to prevent animal cruelty. But unfortunately, no one gives a rat’s fart about these laws because I see them being broken every day around me. Each day I see posts about animal lovers being harassed, threatened or outright attacked by goons like these. When people can function with so much impunity, then what’s the point of even having laws?

The insane amount of entitlement in this country baffles me to no end. It’s important that we put our foot down when we see something wrong happening in front of us. It’s important we take a stand, sometimes no matter the consequences, against illegal behavior. What this man is doing amounts to criminal intimidation under IPC 503. The world belongs to all living beings, not just humans, and it’s time we started respecting that.

If this video has angered you as much as it angered me, please share it across social media and help make this man and his behavior infamous.

 

Process of Choreography

Paul taylor.jpg

The subject of this post has been incredibly elusive to me for many years. How do I choreograph? create from scratch? How do I ensure the movement is mine, and completely mine? How do I best portray what I have set out to portray? Will I be able to justify the chosen subject? Will it look pretentious? What will have a beginning, middle and end? Should there be a narrative? Should it be completely metaphorical?

These are questions I never have the answers to. Every time I set out to create something new, I get stuck at the content itself. It’s suffice to say that I do not have a defined, well carved out process. I have an idea, a feeling, a thought – and I begin to create movement around it. The idea is the core, and everything else extends from it. I have read and still continue to read many books on choreography, hoping that one of them will shed some light on my own process and enlighten me a little. Although they have been of great help in terms of learning and picking up new tools – my process hasn’t really changed much. It’s organic and inspired by gut. I could be lying in bed at night, trying to drift off to sleep, when an idea will strike and I will immediately start creating movement.

I try to keep creating and analyzing separate. When my mind is creating, I let it create. Where is it picking up the vocabulary?  Is the movement in sync with the idea? Will there be music? Am I falling into my comfort zone? Quite honestly, I don’t know. I dwell in the idea for a very, very long time before I decide to act on it. I have to feel as inspired and motivated to work on it as I was when it first struck me. If I don’t, I know that’s not going to be my next piece of work. A few years back, I would impulsively act on every single idea and try to materialize it into a full bodied piece. But now I have realized that every idea is not worth putting sweat and blood into. Sometimes its fleeting and lacks context, but can still feel powerful. So while my mind still creates movement and still tries to find a beginning, middle and end – I have learnt how to let it go.

What is extremely strange is that while my process is organic in my mind, I like to be quite prepared before I enter the studio to engage with dancers. I cannot proceed further if I don’t have a skeleton, an outline or prototype ready. When I allow myself to work on an idea, I let my mind wander as far and wide as possible, picking up things from various sources – people, objects, animals, sounds and feelings. Its like being a highly absorbent sponge – taking in information through all senses. Once I feel I have saturated my mind, the only filter I use to either keep or discard the material is – does it feel right?

Perhaps its not a very rational, scientific filter. A lot of choreographers have a logical, progressive set of questions to filter out material and finally to keep only that which works for the choreography. But for me, somehow this is the only way it works. If it feels right, if my gut says it works, I keep it. Once during a residency, I was asked why I decided to keep a particular movement, I said, “I don’t know. It felt right”

Imagery and visualization help me a lot to get engrossed in the world of the piece. I try to connect it with an image, sound or feeling. It has to be happening somewhere. It has to have a specific fabric. If I am creating a piece about anxiety, I have to put myself in places where it gets triggered most – whether mentally or physically. The fabric comes from soaking in all images that in some way, make the idea clearer. It’s like collage of pictures melting and merging to form one piece of art.

Most of the times when I begin to work on the piece with dancers, I have clarity. I know what I want, I know what I want it to look like. Perhaps that makes me inflexible, but that’s why I give myself enough time and bandwidth to inhabit the idea for so long before I begin work. I tried approaching of my pieces with uncertainty, letting improvisation take the forefront – and I wasn’t very happy. Maybe one needs to trust oneself enough to take that leap of faith, and I consider improvisation to be that leap of faith. Choreographers and artists throughout history who have used it to not just create, but create some of the most dynamic works, have been courageous, from Merce Cunningham to Trisha Brown. When I try to rely solely on improvisation, I fall flat on face because I cannot tap into any bank of vocabulary.

I still feel like I have a long way to go in terms of refining my process. Its still very raw and incomplete, but I can say that I try to learn everyday, not just in the studio but from everything and everyone. I am currently ready a book by Daniel Nagrin, in which he makes a brilliant point, one that I will retain for a very long time – “dance” is not just about danc”ing”, its about everything to which one can attach “ing”. Imagine how limitless the scope then becomes!

 

What is Contemporary Dance?

..Honestly, it sounds like a fairly simple question. We have watched and experienced contemporary dance enough times to form a visual of it. It is loosely used all around us and has been given a rather permanent face thanks to the reality shows – jumps, tricks, turns, pointed feet and sorrow. The moment a sad/romantic song comes on, you know its going to be contemporary dance. But what exactly is the form about?

The Green Table - C

(The Green Table: Kurt Jooss)

It developed during the mid to late 20th century as a natural evolution of modern dance and the need to incorporate elements from different dance styles across the world. Because it employs aspects of technique from jazz, modern and ballet – it is often seen as being limited to only that. However, contemporary is not actually a fixed or structured form of dance, its boundaries are far reaching and malleable. It allows current influences and cultural developments to become a part of it’s expression. Its doors are open to the influence of all dance styles across the world.

People often confuse modern dance with contemporary. Afterall, both advocate that the origin of movement should be organic and real, and less about aesthetic quality or showcasing of technical prowess (like ballet). The difference between the two lies in the history. Modern dance originated in the early 1900s with Isadora Duncan, who wanted to rebel against the strict structures and irrelevance of ballet. Other iconic figures like Martha Graham joined in with their fierce stand against the form and fueled their performances with raw energy and passion. Over the years, modern dance grew as more and more dancers subscribed to the freedom it offered.

Modern dance, however, is an amalgamation of different schools of choreography and style, each with it’s own set of principles. Graham, Cunningham, Dunham, Horton etc – all developed their own unique style. Contemporary dance, while owing it’s roots to modern dance, isn’t really that definitive. In my opinion, ‘contemporary’ isn’t really a dance style but rather a never-ending wave of evolution and transformation that allows dance to change, grow and remain relevant.

This doesn’t, ofcourse, mean that any dance form can be termed as contemporary. One cannot mix hip hop with salsa and call it contemporary. As mentioned before, it does owe its roots to ballet and modern. Certain concepts like contact-release, floor work, fall-recovery and improvisation are employed by contemporary dancers all over the world. Lets just say it may not be definitive, but it does have a frame of reference.

It is still new in the Indian conscience, and not surprisingly, most people are confused about what it means. We have come to associate it with something like this:

While this is entertaining to watch and can be considered a part of contemporary dance, that is not just what it is. We have come to associate contemporary with tricks and flexibility, which is closer to gymnastics than the dance form. Thanks to it’s imperfect and elastic nature, contemporary dance is a sponge for the current happenings, cultural and political developments and social changes. It reflects the state of the “now”. Basically, it is a very relevant form of dance.

In the end, though, the beauty of contemporary dance lies in the freedom it offers to each individual to be interpreted differently. Every contemporary dancer has a different definition and experience of the dance form, and best part is that not a single one of them is wrong.

 

Doggo Love

As far back as I can remember, I have loved dogs. I had a friend as a kid who introduced me to their loving world and I have been in love ever since. We used to sit together and dream about becoming veterinary doctors when we grew up, so that we could be surrounded by dogs all day long. On my 12th birthday, she gifted me the most adorable labrador puppy. We named her liza. She became everyone’s favorite from the moment she stepped foot in the house. I was happy beyond measure.

However as a kid I hardly knew anything about pet care, and unfortunately neither did my family. She was kept chained more than she should have, was not given the kind of food that she needed and didn’t get the attention and love she deserved. I moved away and went to a boarding school soon after we got her, so I could never completely be there with her. When she died, she was in severe depression. Nobody knew what exactly was wrong with her. I really, truly wish I could have done something. It will be one of my life’s regrets. She deserved so much more.

Fortunately, I am now grown and much more aware. I have 3 indie dogs that my DH (dear husband) and I adopted in 2017. They’re the life and soul of our house. When we adopted Brownie, we didn’t know how to go about taking care of her. Luckily for us we live in an era where we have a vastly resourceful tool at our disposal – internet. We read up endlessly and watched a million videos on canine behavior, well-being, health, training, diet etc. We were quite spooked initially because brownie didn’t seem to be settling in and kept wanting to go out. We considered letting her go back to the streets many times, simply because we couldn’t see her in agony. But we got a lot of support from online communities, where everyone advised us to give her more time.

 

Slowly, after a few hits-and-misses, she started recognizing our home as her home. She started to enjoy being in our presence (especially since it was laden with a lot of cuddling) and not to mention – our extremely comfy bed which she now fully occupies without any shame.

Once we got the hang of it and started to understand finer details of canine behavior, we felt confident enough to bring in more furry friends for our family. Over a period of 2 months, we got 2 more indie pups home! (I know, it can seem like a bit of an obsession, but its not. Really.) They’re name lizzie and bubbles. The most fascinating thing is that all three of them have different temperaments. Brownie is extremely territorial, alert and vigilant. She lived on the streets for almost 2.5 years and needless to say it made her extremely tough. She doesn’t trust easily but is fiercely loyal once she does. Lizzie is cautious and easily spooked. She had an abusive childhood, remnants of which are visible through her behavior. Despite that, she loves cuddling and especially tummy rubs. Bubbles on the other hand, is the complete opposite. She is not wary of anything and will swallow a wasp if it interests her enough. She runs after anything and everything and is curious all the time. Her energy never seems to run out, and that makes sure we get our fair share of exercise too.

 

It angers and frustrates me to no end when I read about abuse and neglect towards indie dogs on a daily basis. People are obsessed with breed because its a status symbol; they want only pedigree dogs like german shepherds, labradors, beagles, golden retrievers, pugs etc. For some twisted reason, they think that their dog’s breed validates their social status. What about dogs that belong to the country you were born and bred in? Why so much love for foreign breeds and so much neglect towards Indian breeds? Because they occupy the streets? Because they’re the ones you shoo away or throw stones at when they run after you?

Indie dogs can be just as well trained, handsome and attractive if they’re taken care of properly. They’re fiercely loyal and won’t ever let you feel like you’re alone. Our breed-obsession is taken full advantage of by breeders who buy pedigree dogs only to breed more dogs that are then sold at a very high price. These breeders keep their dogs in horrible conditions and raise them only for one purpose. I personally know people who have gone to great lengths to purchase a pure breed puppy. Think of what you’re enabling next time you dream about getting a pure breed.

These dogs have filled our lives with love, joy and warmth. We now look forward to coming back home so much more, because we know that the moment we enter the house, we will be greeted with jumps, licks and wagging tails. If you’re someone who loves and wants dogs as much as us, please – adopt don’t shop. Your furry friend will thankyou forever for it.

Choreographic fables

My very first creation as a choreographer was titled “Earthworm”. I am not sure why I decided to call it that – maybe I was just trying to stand out. But it was the first name that popped up in my head. Earthworm is the only choreography through which I have not tried to say anything in particular. It is simply a collection of movements and arrangement of movements that I found fascinating. At that time, I was deeply inspired by Ohad Naharin’s “Virus” and his choice of music. I considered that piece as my bible for the project and asked all my dancers to watch it repeatedly.

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I was also influenced a lot by Sharon Eyal’s “Killer pig” and her use of canon, repetition and different directions to create an impact. Her movements were small, subtle and very powerful. We had learnt a part of her repertoire when I was in Italy in 2015 and Killer Pig was one of them. I don’t ever remember being so confused in a dance class before. Even though the movement wasn’t very difficult, their arrangement was. The combination was so primitive and internalized, and it was repeated by the dancers many times throughout the choreography. Every time I start to get too overwhelmed by the process of choreography, I watch this piece and remind myself to keep it simple. It works best.

I tried to incorporate tools such as repetition and reverse as an experiment. At that time I was unsure of what would work. I also didn’t give much thought to the message that I was trying to put across. Later during one of the performances, I was asked – “What were you trying to say?” and I honestly didn’t know what to say. Now, I feel like the piece was just a physical representation of the chaos that exists within my head.

As a choreographer, I like to approach my pieces with a lot of clarity. I know what I want from A-Z. If I start with an open ended approach, I often get confused and am left feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of ideas. Improvisation, though a widely used method to create movement, has never really yielded good ideas for me. At least so far, movement comes to me first as a thought and then gets translated physically. Perhaps this approach comes from me being a control freak, but it has worked for me so far. I once tried to initiate a piece without any clarity; I led the dancers into a space of structured improvisation to see if it generated some fitting ideas. There were some workable things that came out of it but mostly I discarded it all.

Choreography is a strange process. It simply cannot be forced. There are people who say creativity is a craft and becomes better with practice. While I agree with the argument, I also think that it applies more to the process of movement creation rather than the ‘getting the idea’ bit. That still is a mystery. Sometimes an idea is so explosive that you just know what needs to be done in order to materialize it, and sometimes it is just a feeling that needs to be explored as much as possible. There is one, fixed way to approach it. There is no one way that works for everyone or even all ideas. For me, it seems like I am constantly inventing and re-inventing my methods.

As a choreographer, I will always be a learner.

Feeling roadblocked as an artist?

Lately, I’ve been feeling extremely frustrated and upset. But it isn’t a feeling I am not familiar with. As an artist, I have gone through this phase many times. It never gets easier or better though, and I always end up throwing a tantrum and shedding tears while slumped against the bathroom wall.

I feel roadblocked when, despite having ideas, I cannot find a way to materialize them. I  think about my idea, write about it, talk about it, dream about it – but I can’t make it a reality because there are so many variables that I can’t control. It’s extremely frustrating when you can see your destination, but cannot find the means to wade through the blockages along the path. I struggle with finding the right dancers, fixing a suitable schedule, making sure I have all the equipment for the final product etc. But most of all, I struggle with finding an audience for my work. I simply don’t know where to take my work.

When I get an idea for a project, it’s like a freshly lit fire. The more I dwell on it, the bigger it becomes. My reason for investing all my creative energies in this idea is simple: I am passionate about it and I want to see it materialize. But unfortunately, that alone is not enough for an artist to survive. We need an audience to subscribe to our work and consequently some remuneration. What does an artist do when he/she don’t get that? They quit.

Most of us have come close enough to the point of tipping over before mustering the will power to take a step back. But there’s no denying that it gets tough more often than not. I’ve seen a lot of artists trying to juggle their full-time job and passion, hoping to find a break through in the latter so that they can quit their jobs. But that never really happens. In the times we live in, financial security is an unavoidable need. Our country, unfortunately, cannot provide artists that security. Artists fizzle out without reaching their maximum potential because there is not enough infrastructure, opportunities and revenue to support them. We have reached a stage where artists are doing work for free, just to keep themselves alive in the industry. I don’t think it is possible for us to see a worse time than this for our community. The performing arts are dying.

Performing arts in our country are mostly supported by the Ministry of Culture, that has set up various bodies across the country to support the arts: The sangeet natak academy, Indian council for cultural relations and seven zonal cultural centers to support the arts in their respective zones. But most of their funds go in the upkeep of the existing state infrastructure, which hardly leaves any funds for the promotion and welfare of artists. Their grants and schemes offer meager amounts and are hardly enough to sustain an artist for a few days, leave alone an entire month. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of culture does not even utilize 100% of it’s allocated budget because of it’s refusal to modernize it’s procedures and become more accessible to newer, upcoming artists.

Other avenues such as private corporations, do not feel the need to include promotion of the arts in their CSR programs because of it’s low ROI. Given that the audience for performing arts is shrinking, they have an even lesser incentive to invest in them. Most of the private bigwigs are moving towards cinema because of it’s massive outreach and profits. Even when they do fund festivals, they promote performances by well-known artists to attract audiences and media attention. I personally have gone through a similar experience where my dancers and I went all the way to Bombay to put up our piece – “Earthworm”, with a lot of hopes and expectations. However, the limelight was hogged by a famous performer who was specially called in to give a concluding performance. We ended up being just one of a 15 odd performers on the list. The show belonged to someone else.

There are bilateral agencies, funded by foreign governments and private funds, such as the British council, Goethe institute, Swedish council etc that are slowly gaining momentum across the performing arts landscape. They support and promote cross-cultural exchange of artists, ideas and performances. Some of them even support performances within India, but their outreach is extremely limited and hence their support is availed only by a select few individuals or organizations. The Gati dance forum is one such example of an organization supported by these agencies. Foundations such as Tata trusts have been offering support to the performing arts for the last 15 years, but they too, hardly have any visibility and only a select few artists are even aware that they exist.

Overall, I probably know more about some random app, which is of no use to me that recently released on google play store, than I know about these agencies, trusts and foundations that offer grants for performance making and sharing. Unless one sits down to dig information out of their websites, no one really knows they exist. There is not a single database that covers all the grant providing schemes and/or sponsors in our country, so that an artist can conveniently apply for one. 

Why don’t these agencies, trusts and foundations make themselves well-known and accessible to artists? Why are they repeatedly supporting the same artists/organizations (tata trust has been funding attakkalari for 15 years)? Why is an effort not being made on their part to market their presence more so that more and more upcoming artists can realize their potential?

We have arrived at dismal junction in the history of performing arts in our country where artists have started to refer to themselves as being a part of the “entertainment industry”. Well trained dancers are turning towards ad shoots, corporate shows, weddings and school performances to earn their livelihood. These are platforms where they’re treated like expendable commodities and are not compensated fairly. Nothing is streamlined or well-regulated in the industry, which leads to a lot of abuse and exploitation. Due to lack of work and money, artists don’t bother to follow professional channels of communication and go along with verbal word, which leads people to not take them seriously.

Most of the artists are freelancers as there is hardly any company that can afford to have artists on regular payroll. They survive on a project-to-project basis and more often than not undervalue themselves. There is no body that regulates and ensures the welfare of these freelancers. There is no where they can go in case of exploitation. Subscribers of bollywood dance are increasing both domestically and internationally, leaving no room for other forms like Indian classical, ballet, contemporary and folk. Even ICCR is now sponsoring bollywood extravaganzas to be performed overseas. Experimental artists who want to work on new and original ideas are practically abandoned. Their ideas won’t sell without commercialization.

As I said before, I don’t think the performing arts industry and specifically dance can see a greater low than this. People with new and original ideas are slowly diminishing, and no one cares.

Research: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-creative-arts-in-india/$FILE/ey-creative-arts-in-india.pdf