In a recent article on Satyameva Jayate (SJ hereafter) one of our important film, TV and theater artist B. Suresha brought in the argument of the visible and invisible connection between commerce and art and on how the control of commerce over art can limit art and also corrupt and dilute it.
When the strings of art is in the hands of commerce, whichever art may it be, how much ever concerned the art is and has its heart in the right (rather left) place finally its concern and artivism will be playing within the framework of commerce (read capitalism) and all its concern will be, in one or the other way, benefiting the larger capitalist structure. Else why would the capitalist structure even bother to hold the strings of art in the name of artivism.
What actually makes such associations quite limiting and also dangerous is that the art, in the name of artivism, will not be able to survive of its own and the commercial interest becomes more important than the very artivism of such art.
With all respects to the concern of Amir Khan and all those who are watching the show, we should not let the question on how Amir Khan, with so much of advertising, Ambani and corporate interest intertwined with SJ will be able to raise some of the most inhumane issues of this country- say caste discrimination/oppression, demand for reservation, khap panchayat, communalism etc- in his show? One show on caste discrimination and a call for mass support for reservation will make Amir Khan a villain in the eyes of most of the viewers. One show on how monopoly of Reliance can ruin thisnation and the capital flow for the show will vanish- or make the show itself vanish. Or let Amir give us one show on NBA- a movement with which he has identified earlier- and speak of the problems associated with the popular model of development. Will he and his show have the same number of audience the following week? The point here is not whether Amir Khan is concerned or not but how these associations and negotiations chain one! He may not be able to speak of NBA, even while having his heart with the movement, because of the fear of losing TRPs.
This association between commerce and art, thus, lets art be concerned and speak about all those issues which, if spoken, doesn’t harm its commercial interest. So what happens as a result is that the structure of world, which in itself is very oppressive and needs to be fought, remains untouched. Moreover it keeps benefitting from such programmes too.
Have not people like Sainath, Kalpana Sharma, Harsh Mander, Arundati Roy, Anand Teltumbde spoken about burning issues to us? The fact that we require an Amir Khan- with an aura of being a star- to wake us up speaks about the thick skin we have developed. This is a sort of moral illness. May be the world which we have constructed for ourselves is not a thick skinned one and – to use a marketing word- “good packaging” is required to take the message. But it becomes important to see what is happening to the message itself when it is sealed in a plastic cover?
This moral illness of our times is something which artivism has to cure. We the people, with this moral illness, who are a part of this larger structure and also benefiting from this structure, amidst our busy life strengthening the status quo and this larger structure for our own benefits, feel satisfied about our ‘sensitivity’ about ‘burning issues’ of the world by watching and speaking of some socially relevant issues. This is like personal/ individual CSR. It is, forgive the language, a kind of moral masturbation.
One should remember the recent Idea and Samsung advertisements which showed that ‘like’ buttons on facebook can change the world, bring a revolution, and awaken a generation. It may be speaking about how facebook can help in raising questions and bring about awareness. But the bottom line is “buy idea 3G” and “buy samsung”. Worse it takes activism and artvism from the real to the virtual space. SJ is not very different from this because it again is playing within the framework of an oppressive system, with its close association with commerce, which surely is benefitting capitalism.
One problem with SJ (and also the column by Amir Khan in The Hindu) is that they sound very much like a moral science class. Bringing up issues and discussing them and thus opening the eyes of the people to the issues and also awakening them are fine. But what makes one turn skeptical about it is the moral high position that Amir Khan seem to assume for himself. One wouldn’t become so skeptical about it the research team of SJ was to come and narrate these stories. When SJ becomes more of an Amir Khan show and not a programme which speaks of reality as it really is, there are all reasons for one to be skeptical about it as one has all reasons to be skeptical about all such works where an individual’s aura eclipses the work. In the narratives narrated by Sainath, Kalpana Sharma or Harsh Mander (for example) we do not see their individual personality casting its shadow on the issues they are raising.
It can be argued that Sainath, Kalpana Sharma or Harsh Mander has not been able to penetrate to the larger mass and mass consciousness the way Amir Khan has done. But how can we ignore the difference in the issues being raised by Sainath, Mander, Roy etc and Amir Khan? May be there is a need for the former to invent newer methods of speaking. Possible. But SJ doesnt become an alternative for the former.
That doesnt mean that SJ doesnt have any right for existence. To think that though within the framework of a capitalist system it is raising questions and trying to bring in a difference from within is to just have imaginations and not an imaginary. Like there is poverty of morality and poverty of sensitivity there exists also poverty of imagination. We have been tied by imagination and have not been able to imagine the imaginary to bring in a new form of activism and artivism.