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Playing Without an Audience: How Arts and Culture Survived the Pandemic | Latest India News

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“It was weird,” said Bodhisattwa Ghosh, a 37-year-old Kolkata-based guitarist, speaking of the first time he stood in front of a live audience nine months after the lockdown was announced in March 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus disease. It was at the Bengal Music Fair, held in Deshapriya Park in southern Kolkata the last week of December, and Ghosh recalls that it was a pretty clinical affair: each band had separate booths, and none lingered over stage to interact with the audience – most of whom were masked – after his performance. His, a contemporary vernacular rock band, Lakkhichhara, performed his set and left shortly after. Still, it was better than playing without an audience at all, Ghosh said.

The months of lockdown were not fallow as they forced Ghosh and other members of his band – he is also part of the Bodhisattwa Trio, a jazz fusion group – to find ways to work remotely. In August, the Trio released a single, Europa Swim, although the members were in different cities: pianist Arunava Chatterjee (Shonai) in Delhi, drummer Premjit Datta and Ghosh in Kolkata. “We kept doing new things and sending new compositions to Shonai. For the single we released in August, we recorded our parts individually at our respective locations. It’s very unusual for a jazz band where we record live what we’re playing together in the moment, ”said Ghosh.. The trio live streamed a performance by popular Kolkata Jazz Club Skinny Mo’s in June. It was a paid event but the public heard them in a closed group on Facebook.

While the performance stamp changed in 2020, several artists were also forced to rethink the relevance of their art form as they explored digital avenues from Instagram live videos to Zoom calls. New technology has emerged that has made it possible for people to watch live performances with friends and make decisions on the video calling app. For some it worked: British singer Dua Lipa broke live online streaming records with her lavish show Studio 2054, garnering over five million views. For many others, it was not that easy. Several artists were also forced to face a more precarious future as the lockdown resulted in cancellations of shows across the country.

The big change for 32-year-old harmonium player Zakir Dhaulpuri was looking to the web to continue teaching his students. The New Delhi-based accompanist learned to play the instrument from his father, the famous harmonist Mehmood Dhaulpuri who accompanied singers such as Kishori Amonkar and Bhimsen Joshi. But to continue on Zoom, Dhaulpuri got help from his 22-year-old nephew, a Delhi University student and tabla player. In the online course, it was not difficult to teach students where they went wrong with the grade or how they needed to improve their technique, Dhaulpuri said. “It was good to learn something new. At least the kids were busy. But music is a prayer (ibadat) and children must learn and experience it, in your physical presence, ”he said.

Theater and film actor Danish Husain, famous for his performances in Dastangoi, was in the United States to give a performance and a lecture in March (both were canceled) and remained stranded there until July. “I started to wonder that if the pandemic lasted three or four years and the filming didn’t resume or the cinemas didn’t open and I could never perform again, what would I do to reinvent myself” , did he declare.

Husain, who most recently appeared in the Netflix series Bombay Begumes, produced a series of 20 Instagram videos titled, A Dastango stranded in America, from March 2020. “I had a beautiful view from my room in my sister’s house. I like to recite poetry. So why not memorize poems and have a series of videos, I thought? During a conversation, friends suggested that I use the blinds as a stage curtain, ”he said.

“I wasn’t used to playing on my phone. Instead of going on stage, we have now gone into a Zoom call and seen the audience there. Like theater in cinema, it was a new medium for me. I needed to adjust the grammar of my performance to adapt to this medium.

The switch to digital media has also required investment, said classical Hindustani singer Shubha Mudgal. During the lockdown, Mudgal performed in digital concerts, participated in online conversations about the arts, and even gave online master classes.

“The realization that I would have to gear up for a long period of online events also meant investing in semi-professional gear for such activities. But at that time, every mic, every piece of live streaming equipment that one could buy for this purpose was either unavailable or sold for extremely high prices. And by that I mean the prices had gone up, in some cases, by 200% or even more. Eventually, I bought some equipment and asked colleagues and even young students to teach me how to use a sound interface. This is how I managed all this time, like so many artists. We survived because of our ability to adapt and move forward, ”she said.

Dhaulpuri also gave two concerts online, which were broadcast live on Facebook: he performed from his home, despite the noise from the street. “These are not things that you can do much about, he said.

Theater actor and radio jockey Roshan Abbas, who co-founded arts collective Kommune, said the “pivot” to the digital space was needed if artists had a chance to survive the months of lockdown. With his team, he produced a digital piece Love of confinement,directed by Sheena Khalid, where various actors performed their roles on Zoom in a play that usefully focused on online dating. It was a paid event and gave Abbas some insight into how the digital space could be monetized for performances. The Kommune team ran several events during the lockdown months, trying everything from learning workshops to midnight podcasts (for insomniacs, “a big hit,” Abbas said) and even a mehfil of Urdu poetry. August 15th.

“Instead of a stage manager, we needed a Zoom manager who knew when to mute and change screens and a sound manager who could manage the mics on the platform. It was like Internet 1.0, and what we were telling artists is technology doesn’t have to scare you, ”Abbas said.

Through the lockdown, efforts were made to monetize the digital medium: the Indian Singers’ Rights Association set up a series of virtual concerts, and the funds raised went to the PM-Cares fund to help those affected by the pandemic. Together with art consultant Rashmi Dhanwani, entrepreneur Megha Desai, lawyer Priyanka Khimani and marketing professional Gaurav Wadhwa, Abbas helped set up StayInALive, a platform where artist performances contributed to a funds for those struggling under lockdown.

A report released by the online arts repository, Sahapedia, cited budget figures over the past five years to show how arts and culture in the country needed increased funding; the lockdown has only increased the economic crisis in which the industry finds itself. Asked about the budget cut, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture declined to comment.

The Bodhisattwa Trio saw their income drop by almost a fifth from 2019, which Ghosh said was a very successful year for them. The band toured Europe and several Indian cities, performed in jazz venues like Blue Note in Poland and B Flat in Berlin, and released an album with a Croatian label. The Trio was on track to release their fourth album when lockdown was imposed. The concerts they had scheduled for 2020, including one at the Jaiyede Jazz Festival in Denmark, have been canceled.

However, as things return to normal, the growing number of Covid cases in the country remains a concern. Last month, Dhaulpuri gave its first paid performance – a stage performance in Bhopal – after almost a year since the lockdown was imposed. He had two performances in March.

As for his students, he now follows lessons with them in another apartment not too far from his home. Students disinfect their hands before sitting down. They keep their masks on when playing the harmonium.

According to Abbas, the pandemic has taught artists to collaborate and think beyond physical performance. Online performance is not going anywhere, he said. “As the concerts have directors for the DTH specials, so will the live performances. Purists can continue to enjoy the live experience, but the future lies with the creators and technologists of digital live experiences. “