IN A bizarre step that it says will prevent a clique from dominating the official cultural space, the Culture Ministry has decided to rate artistes and writers across the country on the basis of which they will be sent to various events.
As a pilot project, the ministry has already graded 185 artistes into three categories — O (Outstanding), P (Promising), W (Waiting) — for representing India in festivals abroad. This grading was recently done by a high-powered committee comprising the ministry’s bureaucrats and selected artistes.
Among those graded include big names like Kathak exponent Shovana Narayan (O), Padma Bhushan awardee and Carnatic musician T V Gopalakrishnan (O), Delhi-based Akshara Theatre group (O), and Kuchipudi exponent Shallu Jindal (Promising), who is the wife of Congress leader Naveen Jindal.
They were chosen from applicants who responded to an advertisement the ministry issued in November and December 2015. As per an Office Memorandum of the ministry dated June 2, only “applicants placed in the Outstanding and Promising Categories will be selected for participation” in festivals.
Forty-six of the 185 graded received O, 112 got P, and 27 are put in the Waiting category and will not be eligible for participation. After a performance, an artiste can participate in another official event only after a “cooling off period of two years,” says the memorandum.
Officials described the pilot system as a “success”, paving the way for the full-scale exercise. They said that the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT), an autonomous institution under the ministry and the nodal agency for the project, has already profiled around 70 lakh artistes and writers.
Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma told The Indian Express that the idea is to create a comprehensive profile of all personalities in the field of culture — a definitive cultural directory — and rank them as per their “popularity, age and experience”. They will then be “sent to various events as per their grading”, said Sharma.
Culture ministry officials say that such a ranking would ensure “fairness in participation of artistes at various events” and help in “fixing their honorarium”.
Considering the controversial nature of the project, top officials have discussed the idea with heads of autonomous cultural institutions over the last several months. While some representatives expressed reservations that the rankings may draw strong reactions from artistes and writers, others endorsed the idea.
The reaction was mixed among some artistes, too, with some saying that they were ignorant of the ministry’s criteria, while others welcomed the initiative.
The application process is simple: Any practitioner of an art form can access the CCRT website and fill an online application which has columns for a host of areas including architecture, sculpture, painting, handicrafts, puppetry, music, dance, theatre and written literature.
These are further subdivided into fields like classical, folk, contemporary, solo, road show, ritualistic, vocal, instrumental, devotional. There is a separate column for “others”.
Officials said when the cultural mapping project was launched last August, few expected artistes and writers “would rush in” to submit their details. Now they expect the figure to reach 1 crore.
According to Sharma, “There are practitioners of various arts in each and every corner of the country. Many among them are yet to reach us. It will help us know about those artistes. Second, we would be able to utilise those artistes. The country has around 6 lakh villages. We are yet to reach many of them. We want to reach them.”
Asked about the grading system, Sharma said: “There was this usual allegation that only a selected few artistes or a group of artistes participated at various events. We want to send them to various places as per their grading. It will also fix their honorarium permanently. We will prepare an index. We can then invite them anytime and send them anywhere.”
Officials, however, acknowledged that the project had its challenges. “It was much easier to grade 185 artistes. But now, it has to be seen how the ministry will scrutinise and rank around 1 crore applicants in a transparent manner,” said an official.
For the next step, the ministry is mooting competitions among applicants at every level, from village, towns, districts and states —- the ministry will step in at the final stage. Prizes worth Rs 40 crore are being planned for the winners, who will get the best grades. “We have to select the best artistes and writers,” said an official.
Among the artistes already graded, Birad Rajaram Yajnik, who describes himself as an “interactive engagement speaker and digital curator” and was rated Promising, said: “We are in a nascent space of digital engagement and interactive media talks… this provides us the confidence that the ministry has a forward thinking outlook and is open to contemporary forms of engagement that involve the best in technology.”
Incidentally, Yajnik was recently appointed a trustee of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) after the ministry disbanded the old board.
Padma Shri awardee and noted Bharatanatyam exponent Devayani Kumari, who was graded “Outstanding”, also supported the idea. “Artistes have to be graded, otherwise how would you profile them? You cannot send a junior artiste to a major festival,” she said.
Asked about the grading, she said: “It is believed that artistes are best judged by critics and audience, but even that can be biased. I believe that a committee of bureaucrats would be less biased than many others. I think it’s a good idea.”
Another Bharatanatyam exponent Dimple Kaur, who was ranked W, disagreed. “I don’t know how they operate. It’s disappointing that we were given W. They should be more transparent, structured and organised so that artistes know on what basis they are given these gradings,” she said.
Officials responded by saying that if “someone has any complaint with the grade, he or she can go in for an appeal.” But few, including Kaur, know about this procedure.