July 10, 2020
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The Jubilee Snafu

Was the March of the Nation an A.R. Rahman promo nite?

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The Jubilee Snafu

BARELY two weeks after the 14th August midnight megabudget, allegedly Rs 9 crore, March of the Nation celebration at Delhi's Vijay Chowk, allegations are flying thick and fast between performing artistes and the Delhi government, the organisers. More specifically, the steering authority apparatchiks led by deputy secretary Sindhu Misra, creative director Bhanu Bharti and stage designer Ved Pahuja are attracting much flak for a show being derisively dubbed "A.R. Rahman Nite". It was low grade aesthetics on display that momentous evening, scoffs a dancer who performed at the venue. Other artistes agree.

"This was Shame of the Nation," the dancer commented wryly. Classical dancers dancing in front of percussion drums put up for Rahman and co. Rahman, better known for his composing rather than singing skills, offering an off-key rendition of the leading track of an album he's done for Sony, reducing the evening to a promo farce. Very trite lyrics too: "Ma, tujhe salaam, Ammaaaa tujhe salaam," he went! That maudlin rehash of Vande Mataram riled the musical and patriotic sensibilities of most Indians. An aesthetically offensive mock hut facade on a proscenium stage devised by unknown 'designer' Ved Pahuja, demonstrating a lack of imagination in exploiting the magnificent Lutyens backdrop.

"Variety Entertainment Film night on tacky film set," is how singer Shubha Mudgal describes the night. "I'm not saying I should've been invited instead but much as I respect Rahman as composer, surely he's no singer?" Allegations are also flying between the Central and Delhi governments, with the latter holding the former responsible for ad hocism, ineptitude, lack of planning and foresight. A classic case of passing-the-buck bureaucratese.

 "The government can hardly say they were caught unawares," storms singer Mudgal. "They knew it was coming for the last 50 years! Surely they could've put in five months of planning into it?" Mudgal herself is astounded that she was approached to compose a 15-minute music piece by Wizcraft, the agency handling the celebration, as late as August 11 midnight. Overnight she negotiated her contract, booked a studio, marshalled singers, musicians, conjured up a composition. "It was a competent piece but I'd have preferred to mull over the piece, spend at least four weeks over a paean to Fifty Years of the Nation."

Sahitya Kala Parishad (SKP) contacted Odissi dancer Madhavi Mudgal and Kathak danseuse Aditi Mangaldas on August 9. Mangaldas was in shock: "They wanted me to especially choreograph a piece, bring 35 dancers." Both dancers refused, preferring to present previously performed compositions. Another performer put it better: "The British spent years planning, presenting a commemorative Padshahnama exhibition and we Indians wake up to a 50-year jubilee five days before the event?"

 Why the delay? Wizcraft, which bagged the Rs 1.40 crore contract to stage the show, disowns responsibility. "We were given a go-ahead only on August 9. Why blame us?" pleads their spokesperson. The Delhi government and SKP blame the Human Resource Development ministry for the delay. "We contacted them six months ago with a proposal to stage the show," says an SKP spokesman. "They were too conceited to give it to us and passed it to the department of tourism. They refused. Then the ministry reverted to us barely three weeks before the event. This time round, they refused to part with any money, asked the Delhi government to raise the entire amount."

Artistes reject the defence as glib. "Misra told me a good six months earlier that Rah-man was booked for the show. So obviously they were proceeding as per plan," reveals Mudgal. "Why are they so film-struck? They book him six months earlier and book Madhavi, Aditi barely five days before the show?" Besides choosing Rahman as "singer of the evening", she also questions his choice of song: "How apt was it for him to sing a lead track from an album he's cut for Sony? Why wasn't he asked to compose something for the occasion? He did know six months earlier. It was in bad taste."

 Who's to blame? For the greenrooms sans lights, the dismal show? A government bedeviled by a mindset that seems to stymie any enterprise. Hopefully one that may change by the time the Indian centenary comes around. For now, as Mudgal puts it: "It's an opportunity lost: one that comes only once in 50 years."

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