Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Art in the Midst of Development

So, Sikkim now has a Board dedicated to “Music, Drama, Dance and Film” and a Chairperson was appointed to it on Monday. This is not the first effort by Sikkim to promote the performing arts and creative pursuits. In the past, the State has offered grants for movies based and filmed in Sikkim and also commissioned a slew of documentaries. Also, given the State’s general prosperity, it has also been the unofficial [and at times official] patron of the arts and performers in the region. A “Sikkim Music, Drama, Dance and Film Board” was then perhaps a natural progression, and if managed properly, could deliver well on whatever its Charter requires it to provide in the promotion and nurture of music, drama, dance and film. Given that Board has an artist in the Chair, it will hopefully think with more creativity and commitment than, say, a department for cultural affairs or information and public relations is capable of. The coming days and years will be interesting to watch on this front and one hopes that some earnest efforts are made. And while that happens, it will also be important for all concerned and Sikkim in general to deliberate more deeply on why despite its accepted position as a patron, has Sikkim not exploded with more consistent artistic expressions. Accept it, the performing and creative arts have dazzled only in fits and starts.
Sikkim could begin by comparing itself with even the neighbouring region, which, until its recent spurt of funds-driven ‘development’ had a rather thriving theatre scene with local artists and theatre groups drawing large crowds to their Town Hall performances on a regular basis. There was no state sponsorship for most of these events and the box office ruled – the audience rates the plays and by that count, the earnings that these production make. Contrast this with Sikkim and even to this day, save the rare effort and productions of the National School of Drama, the only exposure to the arts here are either sponsored by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Heritage or curated by organizations which are just as bureaucratic in their token presentations. Think back, when was the State treated to privately staged/ funded theatre experience? It is easy to dismiss theatre as a waste of time in these days of instant gratification and 24-hour entertainment channels on TV and a dolby digital bollywood experience available in the capital. That would be too simplistic. Theatre has to be seen as an art form, an expression of local talent to local issues for the local audience, something that the regular mediums of mass entertainment or information cannot deliver.
So, why is that theatre remains near nascent in Sikkim? The problem is not in the lack of topics or even practitioners, it is the absence of the third aspect cited above that keeps theatre down in Sikkim – the audience- there does not seem to be enough of them. Should the organizers get a Minister, or better still the Chief Minister, as chief guest, they are guaranteed a packed house for either the inauguration or the closing function. And while the dignitaries might bring along some required sponsorship, they still cannot guarantee the audience that every performance craves for. The challenge is also the fact that theatre does not have a history as a cultural activity in Sikkim, due to which, perhaps, the audience does not feel an instinctive connection to it. This can easily be overcome by staging good theatre and winning over new converts. But this is the chicken and egg situation – what should come first? It will have to be for the handful of theatre enthusiasts to figure out how theatre can be introduced to Sikkim. This is necessary as much for the creativity it sparks as the community celebration of art and craft that theatre is synonymous with. Sikkim has been looked down upon for far too long for its preference of consumerist mores over artistic subtleties, the performing arts, with an entire Board dedicated to it, should provide an entertaining way out of this stereotype.

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