At Rabindra Bhawan, in Delhi’s Mandi House, which houses the headquarters of Sangeet Natak Akademi, things have been in overdrive for the past week. After its Chairperson Leela Samson resigned on September 30, India’s apex body for the performing arts finally has a chairperson. Its committee members had been gearing up to welcome theatre person and musician Shekhar Sen, who took charge of the office on Tuesday. Sen is visibly nervous as he takes up an office that has been caught up in a whirlwind of controversy for over a decade. Be it the Akademi’s internal politics (regularly discussed in music and theatre circles) or Samson’s sudden resignation, the credibility of the organisation and the labyrinthine processes in its functioning have been constantly questioned. “I was completely unaware about the way things have been at the Akademi. But after my appointment, I have been cautioned by some people. Be it Leelaji or Sonalji (Mansingh, former Chairperson), they are all artistes and we all are ultimately a part of the same family. Aur parivar mein matbhed toh hote hi hain,” said Sen, in an interview with The Indian Express.
Sen considers his appointment as completely “apolitical”. “I’m not a political person; have never been one. In fact I’m an absolute misfit. But I would respect the decision of the culture ministry and try my best to create a more artiste-friendly environment in the country,” says Sen, whose solo plays such as Tulsi, Vivekanand, Saaheb and Soordas have been staged at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the past, apart from almost 800 performances across the world. “I look at everything from the viewpoint of an artiste and taking up this office will not change that. Every art form in the country, the ones that are popular and those that are dying, deserves a better chance,” says Sen, who will work from Mumbai and will need to juggle his rehearsal schedules and visits to Delhi, for the next five years.
Born in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, into an academic family with a great interest in music, Sen grew up learning the sitar, violin, classical vocal music and Kathak. He came to Mumbai to be a composer in the Hindi film industry, “which did not work out so well” and so he turned to devotional music, recording bhajans for HMV. It was after a trip to the US in the ’80s that Sen grew interested in theatre. His research led him to create four notable works. But Sen hasn’t created anything new since 2013 (Soordas) and has been busy re-staging shows of his previous works. “Things are always going on in the head. Hopefully, something should work out soon,” says the 53-year-old.
As for his duties as the Chairperson, Sen does not want to make claims he cannot fulfil later. “I will do whatever is within my limits. I want to join the dots, help art and culture find a better definition,” says Sen.