Friday, January 4, 2002, Chandigarh, India


N C R   S T O R I E S


Will the young artists always be waiting in the wings? 
Rana A Siddiqui

Indian showbiz made global waves in the year gone by. So did the overseas artists in India. But it seems that art itself is dubbed worthy or trash, depending on whose insignia is etched on the product.

Curator Sandeep Magazine
Curator Sandeep Magazine

Painter Laxman Pai
Painter Laxman Pai
Painter Arpana Caur
Painter Arpana Caur

If the young and budding painters here are to be believed, the year has only seen their subjugation by those who were "always known." Some of them fancy themselves lurking in the shadows for a few more years, even as great names like M F Hussain, Amrita Shergil and Picasso are hawked in India. Here are some artists who spoke about their brittle hopes and others who believe that only the patient and the prolific last in the long run.

In 2001, media fawned over art and artifacts but business nonetheless had a bad harvest, mainly because of the market slump. For the upcoming artists, it a case of déjà vu. Little encouragement came their way due to lack of sponsorships and patronage. Corporate houses, big hotels, even the galleries and the Government did not extend any financial support. In fact, exhibitions cost much more than artists could afford.

The Lalit Kala Academy charges Rs. 25,000 for a week, the India Habitat Centre rent is Rs 5000 per day plus 5% tax, and the Habitat Gallery charges Rs 3000 per day. To add to the artists' woes, 33% commission goes to the gallery owner. (An amount that is fixed for an eternity). ``Young artists hardly save anything after paying the rent and meeting other miscellaneous expenditures," mourns Dhananjay, a talented young artist who prefers to paint the sea-bed and mythological figures on canvas. Also, he grieves that most art galleries keep their paintings with them for ages. They only contact the artist when his work is sold!

Sandeep Magazine, an avid art collector of young artists' works, echoes: "I am amazed at the exceptional talent in this country. I have been collecting paintings for long. And I can vouch that our young artists are no less than Picasso or Leonardo Da Vinci. Unfortunately, we prefer works of famed artists, whether good or bad. Even collectors reach out for big names. Such 'art dealers' exploit the artist by selling their works at a premium later. Artists should, therefore, be careful with whom they deal," he warns.

“I have also sold 'saleable' works that were mostly 'realistic' but I always let the artists set their price. For example, if a painting is sold for Rs 10,000, I take 3,000 and the balance goes to the artist,” he says and suggests that painters should leave the value judgements to the experts. They should not try to gauge the price.

Magazine is not entirely pessimistic about their future: "Art is catching up. People are now aware of good and bad works, and art-related activities are acting like a catalyst. As is the case with real estate, people now love to invest in works of art," he beams. He laments though that big names never promote their younger counterparts.

B N Aryan, a well-known art writer and the son of a famous artist and collector, K C Aryan, who introduced the mosaic painting in India, feels differently. "Experiments are on in this realm, too. So, there is no need for pessimism. Artists themselves commit a mistake by not putting their names on their works, preferring to dedicate them to art and God. How will they then be known?" he demands. Mr. Aryan, who is retrieving rare artifacts and masterpieces in tribal art, however points out that whether people are artistically inclined or not, they go in for 'big signatures' while buying a painting.

But if you ask Laxman Pai, a well-known name in India and abroad, he vehemently blames the painters. "Look, there is no indifference towards young artists. It is just in their minds. Why can't they wait? Why can't they produce a really appreciable work? Why are they always in a hurry to 'sell' their work? Even known painters did not become famous overnight. They burnt midnight oil to reach the zenith. So, young painters should be patient and produce prolific works. You can't force people to buy what you like." Pai agrees that galleries must promote and encourage young artists by selling their works, which often gather dust due to lack of sponsorships.

The debate continue to rage. But the fact remains that young artists feel they are waging a lone battle. Will the corporate houses and the government lend a receptive ear?


A rib-tickler for a serious audience

The worth of a nation is often reflected in its Parliament proceedings. If we go by Ranjit Kapoor’s political satire Ek Sansadia Samiti ki uthak baithak, we don’t have to hazard a guess why our political system is going to the dogs.

The acclaimed director – who has to his credit notable theatre productions like Court Martial, Woyzeck, Ek ruka hua faisla and film scripts/ dialogues of talked about films like Jaane bhi do yaron, Lajja and Bandit Queen – presented Ek Sandasia Samiti ki baithak, a satirical play on the contemporary self-serving political system, at the jam-packed Shri Ram Centre for Arts and Commerce auditorium, recently.

The play revealed how politicians callously deal with vital issues concerning the nation and its security; how a committee is formed to resolve a problem and how our thick-skinned political representatives make sure that nothing comes out of it. Inside Parliament, their main agenda remains affectation and pulling each other down.

The play opens with a laconic scene of Parliament proceedings: One Pandey (modelled on Laloo Prasad Yadav played by Hemant Mishra) teases a younger colleague, Varun (Aswin Chadha), as he peeps out of a window to catch a glimpse of the females in the crowd; another MP, Mrs. Bedi (Shveta Upadhyaya), knits a sweater as she downloads her domestic woes; Major Sandhu (Wamiq Abbasi) helps her with the wool as he listens to her with rapt attention; a beauty conscious MP, aptly named Mrs. Mohini (Aarti Sehgal), in her revealing outfits, joins them later. They ignore the ‘to-be-discussed’ agenda of national security and leisurely poke fun at the Chairman’s (Ashutosh Upadhyaya) penchant for punctuality. The audience is informed that he was elevated to the august post after he taught the minister’s son how to play carom!

The Chairman, named Subbarao, dressed in a lungi and kurta with sandalwood paste smeared on his forehead, arrives on the dot, only to be told about pigeons, their types and other fables about the winged creatures.

Subbarao wants to waste no time and start the proceedings by reading out the agenda. But to save time, he skips the preface, which is a sufficient provocation for the disinterested members to raise a ruckus and reject unanimously the ‘unconstitutional reading.’

Then, each member suggests an amendment to any motion that is tabled, making the legislative hours flit by. For a belly laugh, the members stand up each time the chairperson and others utter the word ‘Sadan’ (House). While tabling a motion, each member has to cover his head with a big handkerchief.

While the chairman tries to reason that it is not possible to fulfil all formalities of the ‘Sadan,’ Panday contends that members must stand each time the word ‘sadan’ is uttered, to show that they are not drunk or dozing.

The entire mindless discussion revolves around mundane topics, which turns into a verbal duel: When Major Sandhu is blamed for selling arms to fascist forces and Chaudhury Mathura Das (played by Shailendra Jain) accuses him of having accounts in the Swiss Bank. The fight intensifies and engulfs the entire House. Pandey also intervenes. The Chairman, unable to control the members, stands on the chair raving and ranting waving his handkerchief like a sword, unaware that his clothes have got displaced. But that yields results! The proceedings begin again. This time Pandey is accused of speaking ‘Out of Order;’ so, next time, he will be ‘allowed’ to speak only after three motions and three amendments are complete. That angers him and he stops standing when the word ‘Sadan’ is uttered, a punishable act inside the House. He is asked to do ‘uthak baithak’ for the number of times he has insulted the House. He agrees to the punishment, after much persuasion by the chairman, but on the condition that nobody except the chairman will witness him!

The first half of the session is thus wasted. In the second half, Pandey blames members for rebuking him. Allegations, counter-allegations, even manhandling ensues. The Prime Minister rings up and wants to be briefed on the House proceedings, but the Chairman asks for more time. He tries to persuade members, but is dragged into a fight. As Pandey abuses him, the chairman beats him up. He is picked up by the other members, only to be locked in the washroom. The hours pass without any business being transacted, a reason enough for all to celebrate.

It takes a bottle of wine to rouse the unconscious Pandey; the bottle is offered by his supposedly arch rival inside the House, Sandhu. The message goes home loud and clear: In politics, there are no permanent friends or foes! They all celebrate the ‘success’ of their plan to abort the House proceedings.

The caricature of Laloo Prasad Yadav was probably intended to draw the crowd, a role which Hemant Mishra plays with aplomb. Ashutosh Upadhaya, with his typical south Indian accent, tickles the funny bone each time he speaks. Wamiq Abbasi and Aswin Chadha also did full justice to their roles with their flawless dialogue delivery.

The play, though well-written and directed, seemed unnecessarily stretched, especially in the second half. The House proceedings seemed exaggerated. The play was not thought provoking either with humor taking precedence over the actual meaning.

The symbolic demise of a principle dying a slow death in the corrupted world, however, was well presented. Also, how foreign educated sons of filthy rich get into politics. The comments of hollow politicians on the younger generations were well presented through piercing yet facile dialogues.

All’s well that ends well! The play ended on a feel-good note, though it did not go well with the politically inclined.

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