Gems from the dust
The Sangeet Natak Akademi has been holding public screenings of its archival films on great artistes.
KEEPING THE LEGACY ALIVE A file picture of Ustad Allauddin Khan, whose life has been documented in the SNA archives.
"In a democratic regime, the arts can derive their sustenance only from the people, and the state, as the organised manifestation of the people's will, must, therefore, undertake ... maintenance and development (of arts) as one of (its) first responsibilities... ." Words as true today as when they were voiced by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad at the inauguration of the Sangeet Natak Akademi in January 1953.
To the vision of Maulana Azad, then India's Education Minister, goes the credit of establishing the three bodies of Indian arts - the Sangeet Natak, Lalit Kala and Sahitya Akademis.
Over the years, though the reputation of the Akademis has taken intermittent beatings, with controversies, accusations and sometimes scandal clouding the horizon, there is no doubt that some good work has been done. So it is with the Sangeet Natak Akademi that has but recently stepped out of the unseemly shadow of its row over the post of chairperson.
Possessing some archival treasures in the form of audio and video recordings and films in its documentation department, the SNA has often been criticised for not reaching out to the public. With a library once open to any interested reader now long since reserved for members, it became even more obscure.
A listening room was available where those interested could access archival recordings on an individual basis, but that too came to a close. As a body run on public funds, the SNA has not been seen as overly people friendly. Since June this year, though, that image is changing, with the regular screening of archival films on some of the greatest masters in music, dance and drama.
These are held at the Sahitya Akademi auditorium at Rabindra Bhawan, the home of the three Akademis, at public screenings on a fortnightly basis. The first show held was of "Bade Ghulam Ali Khan" and "Ustad Allauddin Khan", films made by Hari Das Gupta in 1965. Other films of musical interest include "Semmangudi", made in 1992 under the direction of Bhaskar Chandavarkar. "Kittappa Pillai" directed by Manna Srinivasan and "Pandanallur Subbaraya Pillai" directed by Laxmi Viswanathan are among the films on great Bharatanatyam gurus that have been shown so far.
If earlier these films were being preserved for artistes and researchers, and in the process gathering dust, the SNA has now started compiling a new invitees' list on the basis of the visitors' register placed at these screenings.
Thus, say insiders, though artistes do come to the shows, a larger number of lay audiences are beginning to creep in, ever since the Akademi began advertising the shows in newspapers. As the last show of this August passed this Thursday with the screening of "Mani Madhava Chakkyar: The Master at Work" featuring the life of the great Koodiyattam artiste, and "Parvati Viraham" which shows him in the role of Ravana, we can look forward to more gems to surface from the rubble from September.
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