Watching an interview with the Director and Lead Actor of the film Manto, I sensed my own expression change from delighted to indignant. Nandita Das and the brilliant Nawaz informed the interviewer that Manto is in fact, the first film based on a Writer from the subcontinent. The FIRST! Isn’t that a crying shame?
Is this not symptomatic of an inherent divide that exists in our society? Let me give you an example of my own observations in this regard. The space between the old cafe at Jawahar Kala Kendra and the relatively new Cafe Quaint in the same establishment isn’t confined to just ‘one floor’. People sitting on the ground level seem to be infinitely more engaged and concerned with real issues that plague the world. They are the artists, the thinkers, the sayers, the storytellers, the speakers, the truth-seekers. Unfortunately, they are NOT the opinion-makers. Because opinion in India is fashioned not by fact-seekers but rather by the money-makers, the kind that DO NOT sit on the ground-level eatery at JKK. They’re the ones who visit Quaint on the first floor. Before you think I am deriding a people out of some prejudice, I too, am part of the latter. Ever since the ‘plusher’ eatery opened, I haven’t even had a whiff of the old coffee house! And so, we ‘influential’ lot, that pretends to be concerned with the world’s problems and with a society’s sickness, ONLY pontificates. Our ruminations must be cossetted in luxurious ambiance, bathed in lush light, showered in the right mood, accompanied by a glass or three of the finest, not realizing that as we take tender delicate petite bites of the hor d’oeuvres, it is in fact the very fabric of our souls that we are nibbling away at.
Why else have we the elite not been able to ensure that our Artists & Storytellers have cities, towns, streets, buildings named after them? Why else does India shun our own greats, a list so long and shamed it is embarrassing. Why else do these artists & creators adopt other countries and nationalities? Why else do we the opinion-makers never seem to discuss what REALLY matters, sweeping all our dirty secrets under beautifully hand-woven carpets?
There run two parallel universes within our world. One of the Artist who finds the truth, however heinous and ugly, and tells it. Just like Manto, the artist, even today, holds up a mirror to society. But we, the trend-setters and jet-setters of society do not want to acknowledge our reality. We want to embellish, correct that, entirely skew the truth using layers and layers of ‘selfie filters’ that we don’t only apply to photographs but indeed to our entire lives. We want to see ‘pretty art’. ‘Why should art not please the eyes when it’s primary function is to find pride of place in our swanky new homes and offices, especially hand-picked by our fashinable interior decorators?’ This IS the maxim. THIS is the rudimentary, perfunctory, convenient and ‘likable’ definition of the Arts that we have come to form. One that dilutes the very essence of art. One that kills its reason to exist.
Being in our positions of power and influence, we have perpetuated a similar dilution across the landscape. Our music is now a filtered-down, weak, soul-less expression of similarities. Our films tend to pander to our most abridged feelings. Our stories glorify the banal and sidestep any meaningful life-essence. In this fancy overcrowded factory that absolves us from any deep reflection, producing instead brands that become the talking-point; we have created a fake world that is both intellectually-limited and presents a severe paucity of truth. I dare say, very soon, we will have canvases hanging with just the Brand Name of the ‘coveted’ artist on our walls!
While Wine and Cheese is all well and splendid, it seems to have cost us dearly. What we value has changed dramatically. Who we value has shifted diametrically. In the process, we have displaced the real heroes of our times, our Artists. We have lessened ourselves for having done so. As Indians, we have done a huge injustice and disservice to our own history, one that used to celebrate, venerate, our creators.