"Music, theatre and the arts are meant to be bridges to connect across cultures, civilisations and other artificial boundaries that divide people. But, often they fall prey to the same divisions created by man. As arts get more and more esoteric -- with artists and the audience seeking comfort in homogeneity of class, caste, race or creed -- even it begins losing its ability to communicate and build bridges across the vast and wondrous diversity of people and places. The art and the artists stop growing."
Says noted Carnatic vocalist T. M. Krishna in a note on the thought behind putting together the Urur Olcott Kuppam Margazhi Vizha, a unique festival of dance and music by the beach that took place on January 15 and 16 in a fishing village in Chennai. By taking classical music and dance out of the closed environs of elite auditoriums and bringing it right in the middle of a fishing village, he and his team have taken the first step towards "celebrating oneness" as the tag line in the banner says.
The idea sounds so attractive and inviting that we decide to go. As we turn in a narrow lane just off the road parallel to the happening Elliot's Beach, it feels as if we are transported to a different world. Local women selling flowers guide us to the "kutcheri" that their village is hosting. I am told some social organisations have pitched in to do the cleaning up and to raise funds privately for this fest. What used be a dumping yard for old cars has been transformed into a lovely performance space, with the Bay of Bengal providing a beautiful backdrop. A Matador and a Qualis have been left behind while the rest of the area has been cleared of all the old cars. Spray-painted and decorated with strings of light bulbs, these vehicles add an authentic local touch to the venue. Later, many kids get onto the top of the Matador to enjoy a better view of the performances. A couple of walls in the area have been painted in festival-related graffiti. The kuppam (fishing village) is now ready for the festival.
People come full of curiosity and anticipation for this novel event, many preferring to sit down in the sand while several take chairs thoughtfully provided by the organizers. The programme is compered confidently by two girls from the kuppam. Local youth perform an energetic paraiaattam with drums, and a group of girls engages the audience with their wit and charm in villupaattu (musical story-telling performed using bow as the primary musical instrument). It is a pity that I cannot enjoy the story-telling because of my inadequacy in Tamil, but judging from the reaction of others, they are having a great time.
The first classical offering of the day is an instrumental ensemble featuring young and talented musicians on flute, violin, chitra vina, kanjira, mrudangam and morsing, followed by a Bharatanatyam recital by Anita Guha's troupe. The second day opens with the customary paraiaattam and villupaattu. Later, popular playback singer and Carnatic vocalist P. Unnikrishnan takes the stage and regales the audience with well-known compositions amid requests for film songs from the kuppam kids. He obliges in the end crooning a few lines from the super-hit ennavale adi ennavale. The festival draws to an end with "Krishnan Tudhu" by Kattaikuttu Sangam.
All through the festival, the energy and enthusiasm of not only the performers but also that of the organizers and volunteers is overwhelming and infectious. The kuppam residents have been co-operative and supportive of the event. What has this whole exercise achieved? Well, it is too early to say. Certainly a new initiative has been taken. Congratulations to T. M. Krishna for conceptualising this fest and actually making it happen. One of the "Aha" moments for me is when he decides to introduce all the musical instruments in the ensemble to the local kids, pointing at each instrument and saying its name loudly. Getting the kuppam girls to compere the proceedings is a great way to include them too. Most of the villagers have not had any exposure to any classical music, musicians or instruments before this. This effort has brought them slightly closer to all those. Hope more such efforts will follow. T. M. Krishna sums it up nicely when he says, "Let them listen to it all, and even if one of them likes it and wants to learn, my purpose is served."
Here are some more images from the festival that will help to get a feel of the wonderful ambiance.