Carnatic keys

Demoralised and demonetised, but the season does not stop for any reason in Chennai

The spirit of the city persists despite Cyclone Vardah.

This week, I focus not so much on Carnatic music as I do on its spiritual home - Chennai.

Last year Chennai reeled under the floods. As millions of us worked with our fellow citizens to bring things back to normal, the strange question of whether or not the annual festival for Carnatic music and classical dance should be held, was being bandied about on social media. Many voices, including mine, were raised in protest. We argued that priorities must be changed to reflect the situation, and more resources and attention should be paid to immediate relief and rehabilitation. Notwithstanding all of this, the season went on, and performances were held.

“The ‘season’ does not stop for any reason”, I was told.

A little later, I too joined in and performed. Most organisations did not budge from the established concert calendar. I was at conflict with myself, and I was angry.

This year, we have suffered multiple shocks in this culturally rich city. With the demise of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and the onslaught of the ferocious Cyclone Vardah, Chennai finds itself trying to make sense of the sordid mess, both literally and politically. Demonetised and debilitated, concert regulars are finding it hard to pay for tickets, preferring instead to hold on to change for essentials. The season, unfazed, has laboured on. Concerts have started in full swing. In any other part of the world, this would seem extraordinary, out of place even.

Are venues unaffected? Are artistes exempt from the circumstances? How do we justify any or all of this?

I believe, well and truly now, in Chennai’s spirit. It was in great evidence last year, but this year reflected something truly outstanding – the greatness of its ordinary people. The day after the cyclone, millions of Chennai citizens took time off standing in ATM queues and started cleaning up the debris, painstakingly and methodically.

Many could be seen smiling, consideration was shown in getting traffic to move unhindered. While electricity and connectivity dipped to an all-time low, people worked with each other to put Chennai back on its feet. As someone helping in the cleanup outside my neighbourhood told me – we have to do everything we can.

Take, for instance, the case of Spaces, a unique venue adjacent to Chennai’s famous Elliot’s Beach created by the multi-faceted dancer Chandralekha.

This quaint amphitheatre has become a haven for expressions and free thought. It has hosted multiple events by legends and amateurs alike. This venue is among the most revered for creative collaborators in the city. Its management, under the able stewardship of visionary art critic and writer Sadanand Menon (a long-time associate of the late dancer) has ensured that Chennai has witnessed some truly extraordinary works of art.

Play

Cyclone Vardah has damaged a substantive portion of the Spaces property. The very next day, artistes and performers, along with neighbours and friends, picked up machetes and pick-axes and started working on clearing the debris. As is always the case in the south, technology was put to great use and the story of Spaces is doing its rounds on many online forums. With the outpouring of support, it looks like the annual cultural festival will be held on schedule in less than ten days.

One of the most important objectives we are taught when learning to play or sing music, is the ability to understand what the heart wants to hear and try and execute it. The best musical renditions are when the performer manages to pierce our thoughts, feelings and imagination through their incredible artistry.

Chennai is certainly an idea framed by music. In its ability to constantly show its indomitability and innate empathy, I believe that it is rightfully the capital city for culture. What is culture, after all, if it does not teach us to approach life with an enlightened equanimity?

The Chennai cultural season has begun. In the larger picture, while I do not brush many of these important issues aside, I believe that this isn’t the time for argument. For once, I am willing to put aside niggling questions of right and wrong, inclusiveness and its opposite, caste and parochialism, gender biases and so forth, and allow people to do what they need to do to get on with things.

The writer is a classical pianist and music educator based in Chennai. He is credited with introducing the piano to contemporary Carnatic performance.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.