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There just might be a little sliver of hope on the distant horizon for the relatively smaller and possibly diminishing number of music lovers who nurture an interest in classical and traditional arts, and find it disappointing that television in India has in the recent past chosen to neglect classical music.

Among the few television channels that continue to programme traditional and classical arts are the previously state-controlled and now supposedly autonomous Doordarshan, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha channels. The once prestigious National Programme of Music and Dance survives even today, occasionally featuring poorly produced glimpses of the best in the performing arts, but largely plodding on with mediocre content featuring odd shapes, sizes, sights and sounds made to look and sound even more odd by poor production values. A similar fate is shared by other music programmes on Doordarshan and its many channels despite the phenomenal reach and spread of their broadcasting network.

But in the recent past, there have been welcome signs of change.

Live telecasts of a number of music and dance festivals from across the country are becoming a part of the fare offered to music lovers by Doordarshan. Although All India Radio (AIR) must be given credit for setting the precedent in this regard, both AIR and Doordarshan usually provided live coverage to festivals and events organized by the government or government-aided organizations. More recently however, Doordarshan seems to have extended coverage to privately organized events as well. From prestigious and well-established festivals like the Khajuraho Festival of Dances held annually in Khajuraho and The Dover Lane Music Conference of Kolkata, to relatively newer festivals and events, there seems to be a conscious effort on the part of Prasar Bharati-controlled Doordarshan channels to negotiate telecasting rights with various festivals and events.

This is, without doubt, a welcome change, as is the fact that the telecast also seems to have improved considerably in terms of audio and video quality. And yet, these telecasts merit discussion on various counts.

Television is a tricky medium that can take away as much or more than it gives. If it offers the performer the chance to reach the homes of music lovers in the most distant corners of the country, it also picks up and conveys, without any filtering, the little truths that so often mar performances.

In its recent telecast of the Dover Lane conference, one watched with dismay the performance of a comely young female vocalist pouring her heart and soul into the music, framed on either side by two male tanpura players wearing the most supercilious, bored expressions, occasionally even sniggering as they exchanged knowing glances at friends in the audience. Instead of looking towards the artiste they were accompanying, they chose to stick their faces towards the audience, revealing all along their lack of interest in their task. The very competent and highly experienced tabla accompanist offered no respite either, plodding on with an air of extreme disinterest and indifference.

In a radio or audio-only broadcast, these nuances might never have revealed themselves. In a telecast however, the bored looks, the sniggers, and frankly, the poor concert etiquette, clouded the experience beyond repair. In no way can Doordarshan be faulted for this, yet perhaps a short briefing session for performers and organizers about these and other similar television traps might be in order?

The other issue that merits investigation concerns the terms on which these festivals and events are being televised. Are the artistes aware that their performances will be televised, and are terms negotiated with them well in advance and in writing; or are they taken by surprise at the last moment and not able to exercise their rights for fear of losing a valuable concert opportunity? Because, irrespective of whether or not a telecast fee is offered to the organizers, the law of the land states quite clearly that permissions in writing must be sought from every artiste, including the bored and ill-mannered tanpura players!

In fact, AIR and Doordarshan are known for the equality with which they treat musicians, negotiating individual contracts with each of the musicians in an ensemble. Informing an artiste at the nth hour of the telecast and its noble motives of promoting the musical heritage of the country, or worse, leaving them uninformed, would be a gross injustice.

As a performer myself, I have often been taken by surprise by organizers who sidle up at the last moment mumbling about television coverage only when I have inquired about the multiple camera set-up at a concert venue and sought clarification. Further, artistes must be told if Doordarshan is acquiring complete broadcasting rights in perpetuity, or just seeking permission for a single telecast. In the light of the recent amendments to the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, it is to be hoped that not only will fair practice prevail in these telecasts, but that Doordarshan will make efforts to ensure that its policies and contracts are in step with the amended Act, and that artistes are made aware both of their rights and responsibilities.

Also Read | Shubha’s previous Lounge columns

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