A crisis of culture

We need to resist homogenising trends in our culture to preserve our rich culture.

The time has come for India to rename itself. Wonder what the new name could be? What else but Bollywood – the greatest symbol of India, the only icon that represents us, the only example of Indian cultural and social diversity. These were exactly the thoughts that crossed my mind when I watched the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. I have nothing against movies or the movie world. In fact, I love watching movies too. But my problem is that we are letting movies overpower and consume everything that is Indian.

Not the real India

Most TV channels celebrated the Indian section of the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games as a great, spectacular show. To me, it was the most unrepresentative way to invite anybody to India. The show had Bollywood in full representation. Ok, so Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan could not make it – they were very badly missed. Imagine India without them! Indian dance (What it was I could not make out) by Aishwarya Rai, Bhangra by Saif Ali Khan, a performance by “India’s finest singers” (according to a website) Sonu Nigam, Shiamak Davar, Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghoshal were the highlights. How can I forget all the great sportsmen being flanked by Lara Datta? Sunil Gavasker and Vijay Amrithraj are not good enough. I have a few questions for the people who organised this. Is India so lacking in great dancers and musicians that we have to rely on films? Are we not modern enough if we showcase our traditional folk or classical music and dances? Why didn’t we send our best classical/ folk dancers to Melbourne? A musical ensemble from various parts of the country? Have your John Abrahams and Bipasha Basus too. Movies influence our attire, speech, attitude and everything else. We have reached a stage where the only way a TV channel can survive is to have at least 70 per cent movie based shows. This may not seem wrong initially but I believe that over a period of time we will end up being culturally and socially shallow. This may seem unlikely considering our wonderful heritage but who cares for that anymore. “Sorry, that’s only for a niche market”. “Sorry, we do not get ads for it”. “Sorry people don’t want that anymore”. When this attitude continues for over a decade or more it will lead to a loss of understanding and lack of knowledge among the future generations.

Mistaken modernity

We are in a modern world, don’t we need to modernise everything? What’s modernisation? Have the arts not always moved with the times? Do we sing or dance the way it was done 200 years ago? Don’t we experiment with all our artistic traditions? Don’t we address contemporary issues through dance? Don’t we package our music differently today? So what is modernisation? It seems like what people are talking about is actually Westernisation. Anything that does not use a bit of the West in its presentation is old and out of sync with today. Classical music is that so-called non-filmy song in a movie. What is classical dance? Oh that is the so-called classical dance number in a period movie. This is not about the actors or the film community; it’s about Indian society as a whole. Don’t we need to celebrate the great diversity of cultures and arts from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, from Assam to Gujarat? Or shall we put all this aside, mix a few things from here and there, Westernise it or should I say modernise it and put it in a Hindi film? The greatness of Indian society is the way we have absorbed influences from various cultures and grown culturally stronger. What’s happening today is not the same. We are not absorbing influences into our society; but are replacing our culture with the influences. We seem to believe that the only way forward is to make everything Western. Only then will our own people like it. This only leads to homogeneity of culture. The answer lies with us. We need to first educate ourselves about India. We need to make a conscious effort to expose our children to the cultural diversity of our country, not just take them to the movies. We need to believe that it’s important and necessary to be aesthetically awakened. We need a social movement to change this. I hope it comes and comes fast. We do not have much time.

Originally written for The Hindu

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