Can’t differentiate between a varnam, padam or shabdam, the pallavi or the kriti? A slew of English journals is filling gaps in the Chennaiite’s cultural knowledge, educating not just the newbie but catering as adeptly to the rasika as well. Anita R. counts herself as one of the latter tribe, whose work-hours as a doctor leave her with little time to attend the kacheris in the city, and starved therefore of any cultural ambrosia.
Enter Alap, about a year ago, and Chennai’s musical soul is getting salvation from another quarter. Run by journalist Akhila Krishnamurthy, the magazine, as she puts it, seeks to “allow people an entry point into the arts without being intimidated by its elitist nature”. The magazine has had editions dedicated to themes such as ‘Expression’, ‘Instruments’ and ‘Production’.
Chennai has had a dedicated cultural magazine in Sruti, run by the Sruti Foundation, since 1983. It wears that mantle of old veteran well, having steadfastly analysed recitals, styles and techniques, and documenting valuable research material in classical music and dance all these years.
Fresh beats have now galvanised that steady rhythm—coming from a spiffily named The ARTery, a culture journal launched a year and a half ago by art buff and amateur photographer Ramanathan Iyer; the Culturama, published by cross-culture destination services company Global Adjustments; and from Krishnamurthy’s Alap. Their surge owes to the renewed interest in the arts, especially among the young initiates. The Margazhi season too has kept pace. “There’s a lot of interest in the arts,” acknowledges Iyer, also the editor of The ARTery. “But we lack quality literature devoted to it. This vacuum needs to be filled.”
The magazine’s initial preoccupation with Carnatic music soon expanded to include other performing arts such as classical and even folk dance. The Culturama’s agenda is more niche: to promote a better understanding of Indian culture among the expatriate community.
Iyer’s ARTery facilitates another kind of flow. “Mainstream magazines tend to focus on personalities (of artistes) than performances,” he says. “Thus media-savvy artistes get more attention compared to others. Good performances are not reported enough.”
“Media-savvy artistes get more attention compared to others. Good performances are not reported either.”
It’s a space Alap too has stepped into adroitly, eliciting nuances of art from the artistes themselves. Thus while sister duo Ranjani-Gayathri lead the readers through the beauty of a good alaapana (where a classical vocalist’s gifts show), Bharatanatyam artiste Priyadarshini Govind underlines the importance of abhinaya in classical dance, and playwright-author-management consultant Rajiv Rajendra speaks of ways to keep Indian theatre relevant and raise the bar for performances. Assembled thus on the Alap stage, these artistes in turn absorb from each other’s experiences.
Iyer’s equally keen that liveliness flows seamless through his ARTery. There is a great emphasis on visual content here, setting itself up again in stark contrast to mainstream media coverage, “where the photos do not capture the essence of a performance”, as Iyer rues. Krishnamurthy is a fellow traveller in this quest. “We experiment with design and photographs to give the magazine a contemporary feel,” she says. And make it more accessible to the younger reader in the process.
V. Padmini, a member of the Krishna Gana Sabha, is one of them. She appreciates art but doesn’t know much about techniques. “These magazines help me understand the nuances of recitals. I’ve also come to know artistes and musicians better,” she says.
Like at Alap, the ad revenue from patrons is also the fuel that fires and keeps ARTery running. “Brands advertised in our magazine get the greatest visibility in these two months alone (December-January, the music season in Chennai),” says Iyer. Going digital, agree editors, certainly helps save on printing costs but the idea is still to catch on with target readers. It may be a viable model for the future, but for now, these magazines are trying to get a foothold in the market through print editions.
Upcoming artistes are poring over these journals too, availing the undivided attention that culture magazines pay to their chosen field. “As upcoming artistes, we need support from the media; specialised culture magazines expand that scope,” says Sathvikaa Shankar, a professional Bharatanatyam dancer. “It also introduces me to the work of new artistes, whose work I make it a point to review.”
“With the growth of social media, an artiste’s work gets talked about quite a bit. Specialised magazines, too, help create a wider audience network for us as a community, which helps us get more work,” believes Vishnupriya Ravi, an upcoming playback singer trained in Carnatic and Hindustani music. For the diligent editors of the new culture magazines, that should be music to the ears.