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

Advertisements

Revisiting Saathiya

The phase from 2000-2005 was arguably one of the best phases Bollywood has seen; it’s just not given enough credit. The industry churned out some pretty amazing films before the mindless south-indian remakes and Rohit Shetty took over. Films like Hera Pheri, Mission Kashmir, Dil Chahta Hai, Lagaan, Kal Ho Na Ho, Munna Bhai MBBS, Swades, Yuva, Hum Tum – and many many more amazing films were made during these years. I think the above films pretty much sum up my favorite films of all time (minus the terrific 90s of course)

I will probably re-watch them all and dedicate one blog post to each film. This one is about Saathiya – one of a very, very, very few bollywood romantic films that I have loved. Bollywood has always been about formulaic stories when it comes to the romance genre with little variations and tweaks here and there. Up until now, which I consider to be bollywood’s transitional phase, we have hardly been served any truly moving romantic film. Saathiya, however, is a major exception to that norm and stands out in the past decade and a half as a game changer in it’s genre. Perhaps not to the same degree as DDLJ, but a strong voice nonetheless. Mani Ratnam, who is undoubtedly a genius when it comes to the romance genre, is not surprisingly the architect of the screenplay (the original Alaiyapayuthe was directed by him as well) and owing to his solid writing and the presence of a strong reference point, Shaad Ali pulled off a brilliant product.

Films that explore the dynamic of marriage fascinate me. It’s not an easy feat. I assume that’s the reason why bollywood has always chosen to drop the curtains when the hero and heroine are galloping away into the sunset. No one wants to talk about what happens after the grand finale; when the cheers die down and the celebration ends – that’s when the actual journey begins. Saathiya does exactly that. The romance is cute. The chase is fun. The chemistry is great. The passion is scorching. All of that adds up to rosy dreams about a gorgeous future filled with nothing but happiness and togetherness…but when those dreams start to become reality, the couple realize that it isn’t as rosy after all.

The beginning of every romance is exciting, it gives you a high like no other and makes you feel like you could conquer any problem. But the excitement can only get you so far. Real life isn’t exciting all the time. You can’t be romantic and passionate when there are bills to be paid and food to be cooked. Marriage is in the mundane things of life. It’s loving someone even when you don’t like them. It’s about seeing the same face for years and years and still finding some magic. It’s about fighting over issues like laundry and wall color and grocery lists. It’s about supporting each other through thick and thin because not supporting is simply not an option…and it’s not always a pleasant journey. It’s not always as appealing as popular culture would have you believe.

Saathiya is about a young couple who fall madly in love with each other and elope away after their families don’t accept their marriage. They make a vow to never turn back as they enter this exciting new phase of their lives. Afterall, what could be worse than being kicked out of your respective homes? The worst is already over, right? Apparently not. After the first few blissful months of matrimony, when the chase is over and there are other problems waiting to be addressed, cracks begin to appear in their relationship. The guy isn’t the romantic goofball the girl had fallen for. The girl isn’t just a challenge anymore. They aren’t always there for each other.

One of the important scenes in the film that highlights how much of a thin ice their marriage is on is when Suhani has had a bad day at work and hugs Aditya in the balcony of their house, not caring about all the eyes. But apparently Aditya does, and squirms as she clutches onto him. She realizes how emotionally distant they are from each other and that he cannot even understand her state of mind, leave alone being supportive. That is also the moment Aditya realizes – shit, I didn’t know I would have to be emotionally available as well. 

1

Everything starts to spiral into a downward abyss after that. They can’t seem to put their marriage above their personal interests. A love that had survived the resistance of society begins to crumble under it’s own pressure. They reach the breaking point when Suhani’s father dies unexpectedly and their marriage is not able to take the strain of that setback. Suhani blames herself for his demise and Aditya feels resentful about his perennially sad wife who can’t seem to put her mind anywhere else. These are the times when a solid partnership, mutual understanding and maturity are the need of the day. One person needs to take a step back and allow the other person to take as much space as he/she wants, because he/she is the one going through a hard phase. Unfortunately, Aditya doesn’t put Suhani’s needs above his own and they reach a point where they can no longer stand each other.

2

The film captures the failing marriage brilliantly. Their immaturity was one of the major reasons why their relationship was always on uneven grounds and that fact is highlighted many times. They were too young to be able to have a successful marriage. Like I said, love and passion can only get you so far. After that, it’s being selfless and truly wanting someone else’s happiness more than your own that matters.

Despite their immaturity though, they still try to hang onto small threads. Aditya’s attempt to reconcile Suhani’s sister and ex-fiance is endearing; more so because he knows it would mean something to Suhani. It is this event that both becomes a boon and a curse for them. It makes Suhani realize that Aditya isn’t a completely unsupportive husband afterall; but it also leads to her getting into a fatal accident, that puts her at the verge of losing her life.

The film is beautifully interspersed between the present and the past and slowly merges into one. The one thing we know about the present is that Aditya is looking around madly for Suhani. What we get to know from the flashbacks is that he is looking around madly for her despite all the problems in their marriage. Her absence makes him realize her worth and importance in his life; and how much he took her for granted. It is only when he is at the point of completely losing her that he tries to hold onto their relationship with his life. As he says at Suhani’s bedside – “Sach toh yeh hai ki, aaj samjha hoon main humara rishta. Ab tak to bas khud hi ko dhoond raha tha” – being with Suhani was also one of his attempts to find himself. It wasn’t selfless love until she was about to be snatched away. It always takes a life changing event to make us realize the most obvious things.

Another wonderful arc is the highlighted relationship between Yashwant Rao and his wife, Savitri (brilliant cameo appearances by SRK and Tabu). The way Yashwant supports his traumatized wife and acts as a strong anchor even in the most tense of times is heavily contrasted against Aditya’s casual approach to his own marriage, thereby also establishing the difference between the commitment of a man and the passion of a boy. He is there for his wife to fall back on when she is crumbling down in a way that Aditya never was.

In the end, a dialogue from Alaiyapayuthe sums up marriage perfectly – “A young tree might look beautiful with it’s lush green leaves and blooming flowers; but can’t sustain a storm because it’s roots aren’t thickly embedded into the ground..an old tree might look ugly and rusted, but it can sustain hurricanes because it’s roots are so firmly sewn within the earth. That’s what a strong marriage is”