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.

The socio-economic polarization of Delhi

Delhi can be defined as many things, but heterogeneous is not one of them. It is a city whose rapidly rising mall culture contrasts heavily with it’s stark realities at the ground level. A major garbage dump can easily exist outside the long stretch of big wig structures like Select city walk and Max Hospital. A 5 star hotel can co-exist with a slum area. A pedestrian could wait for an auto to stop while ten BMWs zoom past him.

In a nutshell, Delhi is a city that essentially has two faces – The one that is rich, glamorous and swanky and the one that is poor, inadequate and unorganized. These two faces define the way things are run in this city. They dictate the terms that will eventually be levied on everyone. Unfortunately the ones who suffer the most in this tussle between the extremely rich and the extremely poor are the middle class people. They slog away for years in 9-6 jobs, pay their bills and taxes, pay for their children’s education, invest in policies, take loans and dream of living a comfortable and stress free life one day. That ‘one day’ however, never really arrives owing to the fact that the middle class is one sector that no one gives a shit about.

The extremely rich people are the ones dwelling in places like Sainik Farms, Paschim Vihar, Panchsheel, Vasant Kunj, GK so on and so forth. They have enough money to rent Honey Singh for an hour to sing at their daughter’s wedding, enough money to arrange a luncheon with a high ranking government official, enough money to buy their children seats in coveted institutions and enough money to drain down the pipe and still be left with enough to feed the entire city of Ramnagar. They have strong connections with all the right people. They can exert influence in places where a common man can only dream of getting past the peon. Say a tender floated by MCD or PWD, open to all on paper, offers an opportunity to relatively smaller units as well. But in reality, someone sitting in a chair worth 1 lac just needs to send a bottle of whisky, a complimentary mobile phone and a few sugar coated promises to nab the tender and shove everyone else out of the way even before someone can think of bidding. The reason why the line ‘Tu jaanta nahi mera baap kaun hai’ is so famously abused in Delhi is because it actually is true. The only way one can get out of tight spots is if he/she has the right connections. A rich dude from a rich family can break traffic laws, drive under influence and eve tease openly without the fear of bearing any consequences. Why? Because ‘consequences’ are not for someone whose dad has coffee with the Commissioner ever week.

On the flip side are the poor people who constitute the daily wage workers, domestic help, autorickshaw wallahs etc. Their one and only funda is – ‘Strength in numbers’. They are united by their status and their ambition to get as many free benefits as possible. They use their unity to exert influence in workplaces to get their way, and their status as a sympathy card to get out of situations. Say you dismiss a worker in an Industrial area like Okhla without further pay, the next thing you know, about 50 other workers are standing right outside your office demanding why this happened and threatening you with everything from labour court notices to local gunda connections. Their threats may be real or empty, but strong enough to get the job done. A local lady who works as a cook only needs to tear her dupatta and cry rape before an official case is registered against you. All for what? A few extra bucks.

Their unity is also a great vote bank for local MLAs who rely on them for local help. They do petty jobs for them in return for solidarity and support. This is why you could be running a smart IT business and still fall prey to their tricks.

What’s being sandwiched in all this is the middle class, who simply cannot see beyond their monthly stressors like roti, kapda, makaan. They’re the ones who get ripped off by autowallahs and sidelined by Audi owners. They’re the ones who can stroll around in Select Citywalk and yet manage to buy nothing. They’re the ones who are qualified enough to get a good seat in a good institution but get squashed either by reservation or by the wealthy son of a wealthy father. There is no politician who finds the middle class issues strong enough to create a mudda, no godfather who is willing to stand up for the never ending struggle of the 9-6 worker, no NGO that is invested in supporting the paper thin lives of the middle class man, rearing to fall apart at the slightest touch.

In conclusion? If you want to lead a good life in Delhi, you must either be very rich or very poor. If you’re one of the middle class, then you’re pretty much doomed to lead a life of misery throughout.