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BBC Arts Hour: How tolerant is Indian Culture of new ideas?

Depending on how you look at it, India is either a deeply divided place where new ideas are constantly held back, or a land brimming with energy and new, diverse voices befitting the world’s biggest democracy.

A panel of artists and commentators came together at the British Council in New Delhi on 17 September, to talk about the boundaries of acceptability of India’s art, books and culture. Is India at a cultural crossroads and how tolerant is it of new ideas?

The BBC Arts Hour panellists at the recording session of The Arts Hour

The BBC Arts Hour panellists at the recording session of The Arts Hour

On the one hand are cases like the exile of legendary artist M. F. Husain, who was driven away after certain of his artworks were forbidden from being exhibited. Senior journalist and columnist Swapan Dasgupta highlighted the contradiction in the fact that painter Raja Ravi Varma was celebrated for his portraits of voluptuous women as goddesses, while Husain was vilified.

BBC arts hour

Senior journalist and Columnist Swapan Dasgupta (left) and NGMA Director, Rajeev Lochan

His image of the naked goddess Saraswati was seen as offensive towards Hindus and led not only to legal action, but also resulted in his home being attacked by right-wing activists.
At the same time, there is a proliferation of new and diverse voices, as writer and journalist Raghu Karnad pointed out. They are difficult to track since India comprises so many languages, he explained, but there is a new explosion of writing by the Dalits. He cited the example of a Kannada lesbian romance film that wholly embraces the idea of two women in a relationship.

Click Here: Listen to the recording of BBC, The Arts Hour:

Although there have been recent cases of conservative reaction to, for instance, the film PK, Karnad said that there has never been a shortage of people in India whose sensibilities have been offended. Such offence should not, therefore, be assumed to be a phenomenon of our times alone.

Artist Sonia Khurana and theatre activist Shilpi Marwaha expressed their desire for women to be liberated from the shackles of tradition. Khurana said that her depictions of naked women were rejected by Indian galleries only to be received well abroad. They were finally shown after that at Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art, on the insistence of fellow panellist, NGMA Director Rajeev Lochan.

BBC arts hour 2

The audience listening to The Arts Hour

Against the backdrop of the famous “Delhi rape case”, an incident involving the tragic rape and fatal assault on 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey, there is a heightened level of awareness about the treatment of women in society.

The incident, which sparked intense international coverage and mass protest in India, inevitably reared its head during the panel discussion. According to Shilpi Marwah the way people react to women has transformed as a result of the publicity around the case.

A sensational slam poet and rapper, Rene Sharanya Verma, lyrically captured the moment with her debut performance of the powerful piece Reclaim the Night, which was a call for women to be able to embrace the streets after dark.

She says her work aims to empower women and raise awareness of misogyny in India. The discussion ended on the subject of digital media’s capability to empower huge numbers of people. The proliferation of mobile phones is encouraging and enabling art to be consumed and shared more easily. On the flip side, this can mean more opinions are expressed which leaves art in India open to more criticism.

The jury is divided as to how open Indian culture is to new ideas. A live performance by the two-member electro-fusion band ‘Basanti aur Woh’, fusing Led Zeppelin rock with Sanskrit lyrics certainly left our live audience feeling optimistic about the chances for diverse, fresh ideas to flourish.

Post by: PRIYA KHANCHANDANI
The writer is the Head of Arts Programmes for the British Council in India

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From Pixel to Pixelloid

Our day in London started with ‘Power to the Pixel’ a digital distribution and film innovation forum where presenters like Michel Reilhac, Exceutive Director of ARTE France Cinema talked about ‘Gamification of life’. Where he explained different behavioral changes with games from disorder to order and how people get attracted more towards games as players can be anyone in their fantasy games and do anything they want, that is something not possible in real life.

Mike Monello, co-creator of highly successful cross-media film project ‘The Blair Witch Project’ shared ideas on how to design and develop a cross-media project and cleverly market it. Few points: Design for communal experiences where many people can participate. He mentioned how to create sensational news and get extra publicity by quoting ‘Stolen Audi in a car expo’ incident which created a lot of hype. He also mentioned, one should build a larger world than the characters and have tangibility.

Among all the presentations, WireWAX was one of the most exciting new technologies that were showcased. WireWAX is a clickable interactive video service where you can tag people and products. It opens up huge doors for advertisers, sellers and for interactive information.

The next day, the first meeting was with Protagonist films at British Council, London. They do lot of distribution and rights management for films. They produced world’s first 3D dance movie ‘Streetdance’.

Second meeting was with Film London. It’s the capital’s film and media agency. They explained how they promote London for filming and the services they offer. Film London plays a major role in helping film productions and makers to find suitable locations, post-production facilities and to avail government tax credits. One of their recent projects was ‘Inception’.

Rebecca O’Brien, Co-founder of Sixteen Films was our 3rd meeting. She’s a highly regarded producer who works with director Ken Loach. They have a long history of film making. They have just 2 rooms for the office and manage all their projects. Another surprising thing I got to know is they still use traditional ‘Steinbeck’ for their film editing. We went to Rushes along with Rebecca where we met Joe Bateman, he is the festival director at Rushes Soho Shorts Festival. He explained how Rushes started their short films festival, how they organize and screen the shorts. It’s a 10 days festival where they attract more than 1000 entries from all over the world.

On the third day, our first meeting with Big Talk productions. They produced hits such as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, most recently, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Matthew Justice and Rachael Prior gave us a lot of insight of growing the company from just a few people to more than twenty. At the time of expansion, they needed someone very experienced and networked and they recruited Rachael Prior who was then working with ‘Working Title’.

City Screen Picturehouse is a leading independent cinema operators in UK. Their venues screen a lot of mainstream, independent art house and foreign language films.

We met Tina McFarling, Head of Industry Relations of UK Film Council and British Council office. UKFC is a government funded agency for film in the UK ensuring economic, cultural and educational aspects of film are effectively represented. They fund around 100k for British Productions and have a program called First Light for young film makers. Recently, UK government merged it with BFI London and we’ll have to see what kind of changes they come up with.

Our last meeting for the day with Eddie Berg, Artistic Director with BFI. He worked with British Council before moving to BFI and he understands about YCE and other programs British Council takes up. British Film Institute (BFI) promotes understanding and appreciation of film and television heritage and culture. BFI London is one of the most popular film festivals in the world.

Day 4 was our Judging day at British Council followed by a day off. On Sunday we travelled to Bristol.

Monday morning started with meeting with Mehjabeen Price, Director of Finance and Operations at South West Screen. SWS funded by UKFC, Skillset & South West of England Regional Development agency. There are about 1800 companies in wildlife media and 90,000 in creative media industries. Bristol has tech companies like HP and airplane industries. 25% of world’s nature programs created in Bristol. They have well known media companies like BBC, Aardman Animation, Endemol, Bournemouth. South West Screen fills the gap carries industry need to policy makers.

Second meeting at Aardman Animation. A very pleasant and joyful place to work and visit. They have a huge studio and a nice entrance with some of the characters created for their movies and TV programs. Our young entrepreneurs turned kids and ran around the whole place to take pictures. We met Miles Bullough, Head of Broadcast who gave us a presentation about Aardman. Just 2 people started the company and they won several Oscars as well. We had a pleasure meeting Mr.David Sproxton for a few minutes.

Our third meeting was with The Watershed. It’s Britain’s first dedicated ‘Media Center’ and delivers a year round diverse, cultural programme of films, festivals and is a leading exponent and commissioner of digital and online creativity through its website dShed.net where you can view and engage with debate, projects, pod casts and artists commissions and short films and through its Pervasive Media Studio.

Then we travelled to Cardiff where we began by meeting Dragon DI, which is located in Sony Technology Centre outside Cardiff. It’s more like a boutique studio running Quantel systems for their digital intermediate services. They primarily work on London, Scotland and some of the European budget productions, where London handles high-end post.

Our next meeting was with Boomerang. They have a group of companies whose activities include program production, post-production services television facilities and talent management. They have both English and Welsh language productions specifically made for Wales. They have co-productions with some of the French and Canadian companies due their welsh language speaking population in those countries as well.

British Council, Cardiff.
We had a networking lunch at British Council, Cardiff. There were a few presentations from Owain Gillard, Film Office, Wales Screen Commission explaining how they are trying to promote film and related activities in Wales. Films like Robinhood shot in Wales beaches and forests.

Fresh Launch event at Atrium. They offer courses in animation, design, broadcast, music, fashion, communication and drama. They have huge space dedicated for their educational facilities.

Day 9: Back to London and a meeting at Dodwoof, a leading UK film distributor specializing in social issue films, documentaries, independent films and world cinema. They are known for their ethical documentaries, such as Black Gold, Burma VJ, Food Inc among others.

Q&A with Duncan Kenworthy, a highly respected producer whose credits include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually. He shared his experience from his days when he was working for someone then eventually took the risk of being a producer and the hardships then the joy of it.

Then there was a panel discussion about cross platform trends from the UK and emerging international markets. 19 years old Jamal Edwards, SBTV gave an interesting presentation about his YouTube channel with more than 13,000,00 upload views and Top 100 most viewed & subscribed directors of all time. http://www.sbtv.co.uk/

Another presentation from DamianoVukotic, RSA Films turned the attention of all the audiences when he showed Philips Cinema Parallel Lines – The Gift. http://www.rsafilms.com/company/rsa-uk/director/carl-erik-rinsch/philips-cinema-parallel-lines-the-gift-1265

Day 10: End of IYSE Tour.

It was a great opportunity for all of us to get together learn about each other, then visiting and meeting different companies and people. It was once in a life time experience. I’m sure at least some of our IYSE finalists would work on something together at some point. It was such a great group and total pleasure being a part of the whole program!

Thank you British Council and Aanchal, Claire & Rwituja!

Post by – © Yugandhar Tamareddy

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