Thursday, January 26, 2012

13th National Conference of IPTA : Approach Paper

People’s Culture: Encounter with Time

-Samik Bandyopadhyay
At the beginning of the second decade of the new century, there is need to redefine the role of people’s culture, in terms of the values that the Indian People’s Theatre Association has carried from its inception in the 1940s in the context of its early commitment to a worldwide struggle against Fascism. The battleground today has been redefined in terms of the dominant aggressive thrust of global capitalism bent on grabbing resources and markets, nurturing and fanning consumerist desire and greed, controlling and manipulating the print and electronic media to support and further its ends, on one end; and a sharply divided and considerably weakened Left on the other end, mobilizing a resistance. With the political Left in disarray, it falls on the cultural Left to engage more proactively and militantly in this building of resistance.

It is the collusion of the State and the Media and their joint pressure on the Judiciary that is moving relentlessly towards a disintegration of whatever democratic forms and institutions have been developed and put in place in post-Independence India. At different levels, both at the Centre and in the States, there are moves (often backed by the Judiciary) to seal the spaces and platforms traditionally used for public expressions / demonstrations of protest. The iconic projections of leaders in Gujarat and West Bengal (with government and media in collusion) only add to the potential of a Fascist hegemony.
This is the political context in which we need to propose a role for people’s culture. The concerted endeavour of a capitalist State, the corporate sector, the bureaucracy and the media to make the market forces determine everything has now chosen the cultural space as a major field of operation; operating initially and overtly through the injection of more money in the form of subsidies, grants and awards, and covertly by laying down ground rules for a safe, non-antagonistic, diffuse body of subjects, themes, and attitudes. Significantly enough, addressing the inauguration of the Natyamela, an annual festival of plays in West Bengal, the largest of its kind in India, the new West Bengal Chief Minister, stressed and directed the need for marketing theatre as of prime importance above its social, political or ethical values.

The valorization of the commercially oriented cinema and its song-and-dance subculture, upheld and propagated by the media and the academe (through its film studies programme) alike, offer the popular mass culture with its deeply ingrained philosophy of capitalist status quo, collaborationist values, as a people’s culture, and part of a standardized marketable culture.
All these factors, taken together, leave an organization like ours with the imperative of supporting and sustaining the local and regional people’s cultures, drawing on their historical roots and memories, and addressing the immediate concerns, both local and global (especially as they insidiously impinge on the local), and use these sources and productions to mobilize people’s consciousness in defence of democracy, civil rights and free speech, and socialist egalitarianism. At the same time, we need to create platforms and sites throughout the country where the local performative acts / voices can find points of convergence, sharing and dissemination, a revival in new terms of the IPTA festivals and peace festivals of the 50s. The cultural mobilization and the creative innovations of the cultural Left in the 50s in the face of the post-Word War II resurgence of aggressive imperialism offer a history to be reclaimed and revivified against a yet more consolidated imperialist drive riding roughshod over so many nations, including ours.
One of the reasons why the cultural upsurge of the 50s dissipated and dissolved and frittered away was the lack of a serious ideological engagement, a lacuna which has eaten into a lot of IPTA initiative in the past. Showmanship without a strong and clear ideological concern can be bought over and appropriated by the State-Capital nexus, which considers cultural production a soft and malleable sector that recently it has started treating under the ideologically charged category of ‘cultural industry’! The danger signs are only too obvious.

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