July 10, 2020
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Play It Again, Saami

The Madras winter music festival is on after all, with a discordant twist

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Play It Again, Saami
Play It Again, Saami
Just when we thought the 77th annual festival of the Music Academy, Madras, had been given an indecent burial (Outlook, December 20), there's a twist in the tale. A division bench of the Madras High Court has ordered a status quo on the academy's management and said that the present executive committee (EC) will manage it until further orders. The subtext: this year's music festival will have to be held.

However, the interim order has caught the academy's management unawares. Not having appealed for an early dismissal of as many as eight petitions pending before the high court, the academy had reconciled itself to not staging the annual festival. The T.T. Krishnamachari Auditorium had, in fact, been rented out between December 19 and January 2 for other shows. Even for the subsequent weekends till January 31, the auditorium has been hired out. Notes an unhappy EC member, "Not expecting the high court to be so proactive, the management had decided to make money by renting out the auditorium."

Unconcerned about such a state of affairs, the first bench of the high court, comprising Chief Justice Markandey Katju and Justice N.V. Balasubramanian, passed the one-sentence order on December 14. While the first bench explained the status quo as meaning that "the EC, which was managing the affairs of the Music Academy, will continue to manage it", about a year ago, another division bench of the court, comprising Justices V.S. Sirpurkar and P.D. Dinakaran, allowing the 76th festival, had said, "this does not mean that we have in any manner recognised the legality of that committee."

Now, it is not clear if the latest interim order continues to view the EC as an illegal entity, and yet recommends that it hold a festival. Irrespective of the order, the present EC had ceased to be a legal body. Elections were last held in June 2001 and a new set of members was to be elected by June 2004. Citing irregularities and given that the academy did not have any registered bylaws, the district registrar's office had held the EC as an illegal body.

The additional advocate general even pointed out to the bench that the auditorium was not available for the festival. Yet, the interim order was passed. The Music Academy, though unprepared for the task thrust upon it, acted typically. Soon after the order, a faction of the 22-member EC met unofficially at the residence of M.S. Pattabhiraman, one of the vice-presidents of the academy. A formal full-fledged emergency EC meeting was slotted for December 17, but at a two-hour notice, it was suddenly shifted to the evening of December 16. The meeting happened when Nalli Kuppuswamu Chetti, vice-president and one of the petitioners, was away in Tirunelveli. The Pattabhiraman faction is reckoned to have at least 16 members in the EC and wields a "majority".

But the problem the academy has is in convincing those who had booked the auditorium to shift out. Carnatica.com, managed by scholar-vocalist K.N. Shashikiran and singer S. Sowmya, had booked the place from December 19 to January 2 paying Rs 25,000 per day. The first four days were sponsored by rmkv group, a silks major, which invested Rs 6.5 lakh in the programme. Grammy winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt was slated to give a Mohan Veena recital. From December 24 to January 2, Carnatica.com had planned a festival dedicated to M.S. Subbulakshmi. All this now stands threatened. The manager of the academy, V.G. Sherman, told Outlook, "This year's 14-day annual music festival will be conducted from December 19 to January 4. We have written to Carnatica and asked them to withdraw. We are refunding their booking money." Says an EC member, "This means there are no terms and conditions for hiring out the Music Academy auditorium. Any organiser can be arbitrarily shown the door. "

According to a music-loving lawyer, "What is unfolding now is an alleged festival conducted by an alleged EC. They will try arm-twisting leading performers into giving them time at the last minute. If not, they will make ageing, jobless artistes perform." There will be music, but the harmony will be missing.

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