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Treasure Art Gallery opens with Prabhakar Kolte’s ‘The Mind’s Eye’

Prabhakar Kolte, Acrylic on Canvas, 60-72″

Prabhakar Kolte with Ritu Beri

`Ritu Beri inaugurates the exhibition, Kapil Dev sends a video message to the artist, who is back in the city after 15 years

The Mind’s Eye: a seminal exhibition of Prabhakar Kolte
Curator:  Uma Nair
9th October –  10th December 2021
11.00am -7.00pm, Monday to Saturday
Treasure Art Gallery, D-24, Defence Colony, New Delhi- 110024

New Delhi, 9th October, 2021: Veteran Abstractionist Prabhakar Kolte’s seminal

exhibition The Mind’s Eye, curated by Uma Nair was inaugurated at Treasure Art Gallery in the city by renowned fashion designer Ritu Beri in the presence of CDirector General, ICCR; Adwaita Gadanayak, Director General, National Gallery of Modern Art; diplomats; eminent artists like Arpita Singh, Paramjeet Singh, Rameshwar Broota; prominent gallerist & art collectors.

Kapil Dev, former Indian Cricketer who could not be present at the event, said  in a video message, “Looking forward to seeing Prabhakar Kolte’s beautiful abstract painting at Treasure Art Gallery in Delhi. This will add colour through everybody. To me definitely. All the best and hope I can have one painting in my house too. I wish everybody whoever is involved, good luck.”

Treasure Art Gallery is a contemporary art gallery owned by Tina Chandroji with two partners. The avant garde gallery located in the heart of   Delhi’s upscale Defence Colony is made up of two exhibition spaces that makes it one of the biggest spaces for exhibitions in Delhi. TAG plans to work with emerging and established artists with the central aim of allowing their work to grow both in terms of production of new projects and the making of new exhibitions.

TAG launched officially on 9th Oct 2021 with debut solo exhibition of the abstract master Prabhakar Kolte one of the greatest mentors of the Sir J.J. School of Art Mumbai. For curator Uma Nair, “The most intrinsic quality of the gallery is the light filled window spaces and the fact that you can glimpse the masterpiece in the window as you pass by in your car.”

Kolte a famed Professor of J.J. School of Art and deeply loved by his students and collectors alike was present for the show. He ranks amongst India’s finest artists according to Nair who has followed his work for more than 3 decades. The seminal exhibition includes the portraits and still life works made during the early stages of his career, the paintings made during the formative years and the mature works made during and after realizing the hallmark art lingua that established his position in the modern art discourse.

One of the pioneers of Indian Abstract Expressionism, Kolte has been successfully carrying forward his unique abstract language for over five decades with timely innovations, experiments and changes within the same, in order to make the paintings fresh and alive. TAG houses the largest inventory of the artist’s works till now and has the ability to create a new collector base for the artist.

Uma Nair, Curator, The Mind’s Eye, said,  “The Kolte solo show has stellar works of art and they range over a period of time while most belong to the past 10 years. Amongst canvases and works on paper and drawings are three intriguing installations that add to Kolte’s repertoire of creativity. The show is expected to run for a few months so that many art lovers and students of art have the opportunity to discover this great master from Mumbai.”  

“I’m Delighted to inaugurate the Treasure Art Gallery, with an exhibit of Prabhakar Kolte, a personal favourite. I believe this show is going to be a visual delight for one and all. The Treasure art gallery is also going to add to the vibrant art scene of Delhi. We look forward to some unique collaborations between art and fashion to blur the lines between fashion and art.  Congratulations Treasure Art Gallery and I wish you all the very best. You guys are going to rock.” said  Ritu Beri, Fashion Designer and Founder Luxury League.

“We would like to add to the city’s character of art shows and hope to expand our reach with established artists as well as emerging contemporaries,” says Chandroji a second-generation art collector. “We hope to serve the arts in many ways and are looking forward to establishing new connections in Delhi which has a thriving art market.” Said  Tina Chandorji, Director Treasure Art Gallery

“I have been practicing my way of painting and it will continue till my last breath. For me painting is my passion, it’s my breath and life. I am really glad to showcase my diverse practice with the official launch of Treasure Art Gallery in Delhi. I have full faith that Treasure Art Gallery will be a great treasure to the existing art ecosystem and will definitely add value to it.  My best wishes and support are there with TAG in this new journey.” – Prabhakar Kolte, Artist

“Looking forward to viewing ‘Prabhakar Kolte’ – legendary abstract artist at the inauguration of Treasure art gallery” – Nupur Goenka, Director, GD Goenka Group

“We are delighted with the opening of Treasure Art Gallery which will be featuring the honourable Prabhakar Kolte. We fully embrace the beauty of Indian art and are looking forward to the opening.” said Mr. Ramesh Chauhan, Chairman Bisleri

Treasure Art Gallery TAG launches itself in Delhi with a grand show of recent works of the master abstractionist Prabhakar Kolte of Mumbai.  Impressive and gorgeous in range, size and depth, the show presents Kolte in his well-regarded essentials and yet discovering something new and unexpected.

 Done largely during the pandemic, the art underlines a colourful zest for life. An intense spontaneity, well-tuned to the multiple rhythms of colours, runs across fiving you enough freedom to discover your own personal intimations of meaning and memory. A very well-appointed gallery, elegantly designed, with a magnificent show,” said Ashok Vajpeyi, Indian Poet, Noted cultural & Arts Administrator

About Treasure Art Gallery:

Located in the heart of New Delhi at Defence Colony, Treasure Art Gallery (TAG) is born out of a vision to build an institution dedicated to modern and contemporary Indian art. Treasure Art Gallery (TAG) is formally launching itself into the contemporary Indian art sector with a select retrospective exhibition of the veteran modernist Prabhakar Kolte from Mumbai.

 TAG a gallery with a difference, is aimed primarily to offer a panoramic view of the arts they represent. We aim to encourage collaboration with institutions and artists by bringing in an active discourse around art and to create business partnerships. TAG also aims to support seminars, workshops, lectures, discussions, and talks that contextualise art within critical dialogue. We truly respect and value the modern masters and simultaneously encourage emerging, cutting-edge contemporary artists. Our objective is to provide a cohesive environment where younger artists are able to contextualise their work alongside the masters of Indian art and find avenues for their own journeys.

About Prabhakar Kolte:

Short Bio:

Prabhakar Kolte was born in 1946, in a village called Nerurpar of District Ratnagiri in Maharashtra. He received his Diploma from Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai in 1968. He also taught there between 1972 and 1974. The artist has a number of solo shows to his credit. He has participated in many important group exhibitions both nationally and internationally. He is the recipient of ‘Druga Bhagwat Award’ for his Book ‘From Art to Art’ – a compilation of various articles on art, in 2010. He has been writing about international and national artists for the Mauj publication (Marathi magazine).

About His Work

One of the pioneers of Indian Abstract Expressionism, Kolte has been successfully carrying forward his unique abstract language for over five decades with timely innovations, experiments and changes within the same, in order to make the paintings fresh and alive. 

His early works show a strong influence of Paul Klee, the Swiss artist and teacher whose childlike figures belie the sophistication of his richly textured surfaces. Kolte’s abstract layering with paint echoes cityscapes where the signs and textures give a glimpse into his modernist consciousness. His early works are characterised by a single, dominant colour in the background, on which lighter and more complex geometric or organic forms are juxtaposed.

The operative system that Kolte found for his works was in a way colour field,  but fundamentally different from that of the colour field abstractionists of his time like Marc Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still and so on. What he made was not even remotely similar to the paintings by KCS Paniker in the south or GR Santhosh or Biren De in the north. He was even different from his immediate predecessors like Raza, Gaitonde, Ram Kumar and Swaminathan. But the most interesting thing about Kolte is that, throughout his career he has been having the spirit of this international abstract movement that later condensed into a life philosophy rather than being just a mere art style or lingua. Kolte is a conversion of life into terms of colour. It occupied everything pertaining to life; from music to harsh mundaneness. Using an aesthetic alchemy, he turned them into pictorial expressions that opened up wider and narrower slits allowing entry to the viewer and sealing it the next moment, a sort of visual trapping for aesthetical engagement.




The End and the Future of Theater

NYC Theatre District – Will it be the same?

Theater halls have opened in the UK and Australia, and the lights will shine bright on Broadway after two years. It is too early to say whether the policymakers are being over-optimistic or careless. But for most of the world, specifically, India, theater shows will not go live for at least a couple of years. And even when the theaters open with safety protocols, the theater may not remain a financially viable business. Is it the end of theater as we know it? Is it the end of an art form that has been performed for at least 5,000 years? But then theater has survived the plague and the Spanish Flu. Before we speculate about the future, let’s take a moment to investigate the past.

The first obituary of the theater was written in the 1920s when the talkies ushered in a new era of entertainment. But not only did the theater survive the competition from cinema, the Broadway Book Musicals became a billion-dollar industry around the time. The first real blow to small regional and off-off-Broadway theater came from the television in the 1960s when a television set became a household item. But that did not stop Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller from writing great plays. They forced the audience to return to the theaters. Harold Pinter, Beckett, Albee, and more recently Mamet created scintillating works for the stage despite the competition from the cinema and the television industry. The competition challenged theater to become more daring and intelligent.

Yakshagana

Talking of India, we must first understand that the Indian theater is more diverse than anywhere else in the world. Indian theater is in part sacred, ritualistic, and regional.  There is a deep wide chasm between the text-centric theater that is performed in the cities and the traditional theater that exists in rural India. The traditional Indian forms of performance like nautanki, pandavani, bhavai, terukkuttu, yakshagana and even the classical theater Koodiyattam have a significant regional presence and local patronage. Some of these forms are a few thousand years old and we can assume they have survived epidemics, attacks by Mughal invaders, World wars, famines, floods, earthquakes, poverty, and competition from TV and cinema. Did they survive because they spoke to the audience in their dialect? Are they immortal because they tell the local stories of the land?  Or did they survive because of their sacred-spiritual nature and patronage by the temples? The temples were the seats of arts and any attack on the temple was an assault on the arts and the artists of the land. Hence this continuity of art forms is no small miracle. But the urban theater has neither local patronage nor loyalty of committed artists. Therefore, it is starting to crumble under competition from OTT and entertainment in the digital space.

Modern theater, such as we see in the cities, lacks the spectacle of traditional theater and sometimes even entertainment. The traditional theater is non-realistic and highly stylized. The costumes, make-up, body movements, gestures, music and accentuated abhinaya/acting create a performance that is moving, surreal and mesmerizing. The modern theater relies heavily on dialogue and story-telling through realistic verbal acting. The sitcoms on TV and binge-worthy shows on the OTT are also pivoted around the story and dialogue. Why would someone watch a dramatic performance cramped in a theater when they could watch drama on their phones sitting on their couch or even the toilet seat? It isn’t just the ease of watching drama on the phone, but the addiction to the phone that has become an impediment. Not to fault the story-telling. The shows are gripping and fast-paced. But then it is so easy to manipulate the audience and keep them hooked till the end. There are formula sheets, beats, and tricks that every writer in the industry uses to keep you glued to your phone.

The straight plays in Delhi and even Mumbai theaters be it English or the regional languages are laced with activism. Polemics has replaced aesthetics. Left-leaning plays have so much propaganda thrown in the script that the audience can see through it. Can we really blame the audience for not wanting to watch social activism on stage? Directors think they can compensate aesthetic appeal with lighting but they forget the audience is not here to watch a sound and light show. The audience craves good stories. It wants to see life through a clean lens. The audience is done watching Brecht, Beckett, Karnad, and Tendulkar. Bedroom comedies are passé. OTT gives the audience enough sex, comedy, and violence. What can you give them on stage that TV and cinema can’t?

Audience at the Awards

The irony is the directors and actors who are flag bearers of socialism in the theater circle abandon their ideals to work for the commercial OTT and Cinema. The crew and extras are treated as third rate citizens in Bollywood, worse than apartheid, but the champions of social equality on stage never raise their voice against the injustice. And let’s not even discuss the underbelly of theater where fresh actors are made to sweep floors in the name of training. While the artists in traditional art forms are committed to the tradition and the art, the modern actors distance themselves from the theater as soon as they break into the TV/OTT industry. Without fresh ideas and dedicated theater practitioners, theater as we know in Indian cities, is at the brink of extinction.

The pandemic has given us distance and time away from the theater and rehearsal halls to re-imagine our future. It has been a time to experiment and create many futures of theater. Theater companies and individual practitioners moved the theater online within a few months into the pandemic. Broadway HD has been streaming ace-quality theater productions shot on multiple cameras since 2015. National Theater and the Royal Opera House streamed their old productions at the start of the lockdown in UK. The Melbourne Theater Company has recently launched its Digital Theater version where they stream their running shows for a limited time. Going forward, all their productions will be available to watch online for $25. While the digital productions are a great option for the theater aficionados, but a good digital production needs multiple cameras and sophisticated editing.

Watching theater production with limited camera movement can be a tad boring because our minds compare it to the cinema and TV shows. Our minds are accustomed to two second shots. Watching an hour-long play set in the same space, in more or less the same frame becomes tiring unless it’s a fast-paced comedy like ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’, by National Theater. The musicals lose their grandness on the small screen. Lest we forget, the audience goes to the Musicals for live music. The experience of watching a musical on a small screen is unsatisfying.

Independent theater groups experimented with and adapted short stories for online presentations. It started with some artists performing or even reading short stories and plays live on Zoom. The production quality of the online plays was worse than YouTube content because they were shot on phone without professional lighting and sound equipment. The shows were under 30 minutes to accommodate the audience’s attention span. Story-telling was restricted by time and technology. As time passed these experiments faded away and it became clear that the future of theater is not online.

One future of theater could be virtual reality theater that has been in the making since 2016. National Theater has launched a studio where they will use virtual and augmented reality to create shows for a communal virtual experience. It’s the high-tech, AI technology used for immersive story-telling. But this future requires a capital investment of 100 plus cameras, edit suites, and technical crew on top of the cast and the musicians. How many companies can produce this kind of theater? How many of us can afford a ticket to this show?

Of the many futures of theater, one future could have its origin in the past. Richard Schechner, a performance theorist and a veteran performer has been working with Natyashastra for over four decades. Dr. Bharat Gupt, a classical theorist and Natyashastra expert, is mentoring students in Greece, Romania, India and the US to create performances using the principles of Natyashastra. These performances are an organic convergence of music, movement, myth, abhinaya and story. Theater makers could look to Irish story telling as one kind of performance. This is our time to study the past so that we can shape a meaningful future.

Whatever form the theater takes from here, it has to become more immersive, aesthetic, poetic, non-realistic, surreal, intense, and communicative. The stories have to break fresh ground. The writers have to muster courage to experiment with the shape and the structure of the story. The performers have to make a connection with the audience. Theater has to go beyond activism and entertainment to become truly transformative and cathartic.




30 Best Spanish Movies on Netflix (2021) | Second-Half Travels

Watching Spanish-language movies on Netflix is a great way to practice vocabulary and listening skills. Spanish films also allow you to learn about other cultures and gain exposure to different accents and slang.

If you are an intermediate or advanced learner, I recommend watching with Spanish subtitles as studies show it enhances language learning. I also jot down any interesting new vocabulary and add it to my Anki flashcards later.

Here are some of the top Spanish movieson Netflix streaming in the US as of January 22, 2021. If you’re not in the US, just click the title to check if the show is available in your country. Watch these films while you can, because content disappears as licensing agreements expire. See the current list on the link below. If you are not in USA share in the message box below which of these films were available in your country.

https://www.secondhalftravels.com/spanish-movies-netflix/




Theatre Legend Ebrahim Alkazi Passes away / Manohar Khushalani

Ebrahim Alkazi

Theatre doyen and legendary Pedagog Ebrahim Alkazi, who shaped proscenium theatre in India, died peacefully on Tuesday afternoon after suffering a heart attack, his son, Feisal Alkazi, informed us. Feisal told me the whole family was proud of his fathers humongous achievements. A career spanning 74 active years he passed away at 94.

The funeral will take place tomorrow at Jamia Milia VIP Grave Yard. But outsiders have been politely told to stay away, for their own safety, away due to the prevailing pandemic. The entire family comprising among others Feisal Alkazi, Radhika Alkazi, Amal Allana, Nissar Allana were present in Delhi.

Mr. Alkazi, has been the longest serving director of the National School of Drama, produced plays such as Girish Karnad’s “Tughlaq”, Mohan Rakesh’s “Aadhe Adhure” and Dharamvir Bharati’s “Andha Yug”. He mentored generations of actors, including Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri. M.K. Raina, Bhanu Bharti, Sonu Krishen, Manohar Singh, Surekha Sikri, Uttara Baokar, Dolly Ahluwalia, Ram Gopal Bajaj, the list is endless.

According to Wikipedia, He was born in Pune, Mahrashtra, Alkazi was the son of a wealthy Saudi Arabian business man trading in India and a  Kuwaiti mother.[8] He was one of nine siblings. In 1947, the rest of his family migrated to Pakistan while Alkazi stayed back in India.[9] Educated in Arabic, English, Marathi & Gujarati Alkazi was schooled in St. Vincent’s High School in Pune and later St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. While he was a student at St Xavier’s, he joined Sultan “Bobby” Padamsee’s English theatre company, Theatre Group. Thereafter he trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London in 1947.[7] There he was offered career opportunities in London after being honored by both the English Drama League and the British Broadcasting Corporation, however, he turned the offers down in favor of returning home to rejoin the Theatre Group, which he ran from 1950 to 1954.[3]

Early on in his career he got associated with the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, which included M.F.Husain, F.N.Souza, S.H.Raza, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, artists who were later to paint from his plays and design his sets.[7] In addition to his directing, he founded the Theatre Unit Bulletin in 1953 which was published monthly and reported on theatre events around India. Afterwards, he established the School of Dramatic Arts and became the principal of Bombay’s Natya Academy.[3]

As the director of the Nationa School of Drama Alkazi revolutionised Hindi theatre by the magnificence of his vision, and the meticulousness of his technical discipline. Here he was associated with training many well-known film and theatre actors and directors. While there he created the Repertory Company in 1964 and directed their productions until he left.

He also founded Art Heritage Gallery in Delhi with his wife, Roshan Alkazi.

Alkazi won many of India’s most prestigious awards, creating an awareness of theater’s sensibility and successfully mixed modern expression with Indian tradition.[3]

He was the first recipient of Roopwedh Pratishtan’s the Tanvir Award (2004) for lifetime contribution to the theatre.[11] He has received awards including the Padma Shri (1966), the Padma Bhushan (1991), and India’s second highest civilian award the Padma Vibhushan in 2010.[12]

He has also been awarded twice by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama. He received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in Direction in 1962, and later the Akademi‘s highest award the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship for lifetime contribution to theatre.




Keval Arora’s Kolumn

 

Come admission time in Delhi University, a strange ritual involving drama is enacted every June and July in several colleges. This ritual concerns admissions where the minimum marks required for entry into various courses are lowered for candidates with a demonstrable talent in theatre. Well, not just theatre: other Extra-Curricular Activities (generally described as ECA) such as music, debating, dance, the fine arts and photography also qualify. I’ll confine my comments to the situation concerning theatre, though much of what happens here is broadly true of the other activities as well.

The ritual is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is the keen interest shown in it by those members of the University community who do not subscribe to either its aims or its methods. For those who do, it’s a gratifying time because artistic activity is now granted however grudgingly some place in the sun. For the greater majority of those who don’t, it’s gratification time when non-academic achievement becomes the means by which academic under-achievement can be given the go-by. And, at a time when eligibility criteria and admission irregularities are being closely monitored by the media and sometimes even mediated by the courts, the little ‘discretion’ that ECA admissions allow seems to go a long way indeed!­

As for the candidates, it goes without saying that this opportunity is embraced gladly by those who stand to benefit, without any grumbling of the kind that ‘reservation quotas’ inspire from those who don’t. It must be remembered though that ECA admissions have always been used by candidates as an insurance against their not getting admission into the course/college of their choice rather than as a first-choice option. In fact, if one were to go by the quality of most of the applicants, being unable to secure an admission through the general channel appears to be the main eligibility criterion! Yet, listening to these applicants introduce themselves as being driven by a great thirst for theatre, one can see that the natak begins well before they have mounted the stage!­

That’s the questionable underside of such admissions; but there are other questions, more legitimate and no less problematic for all that.

For instance, these admissions bring to a head the difficulty of evaluation and ranking. A prickly procedure at the best of times, acts of ranking becomes decidedly iffy when it involves no more than a one-off stab at serialising creative achievement and potential. Moreover, with subjectivity being both dominant practice and cognitive tool in art appreciation, how does this intermesh with a policy of ranking which necessarily invokes the application of some kind of objective or at least commonly acceptable criteria? Also, is it possible to set up a grid of checks and balances to shape and circumscribe such evaluation?

Of course, art activity is judged one way or another all the time, by way of reviews and commentaries in the media, or through selections for scholarships, grants and festivals. But rarely do such judgements, upsetting as these are sometimes, stamp actors or grade performances with the kind of hierarchical finality that is found in the admissions process. ECA committees are known to blithely wield axes that even the most rabid of reviewers would flinch from using.

After all, the one thing that loosens a reviewer’s tongue is the comforting lack of tangible consequence. The knowledge that reviews (often published after the event and therefore having a negligible impact on ticket sales, as in Delhi) are primarily cud for discussion enables reviewers to offer free and easy critical response. In contrast, the hardening of subjective opinion into summary judgements that slam the door shut on young hopefuls cannot but be a frightening responsibility. Sadly, it is rare to see this responsibility being judiciously exercised. All too often, ECA committees make their choices, unperturbed by the insufficient evidence on which these are based.

Another interesting aspect of this admission policy lies in what it reveals of attitudes towards and the space given to cultural activity within our educational institutions. (There is surprisingly little difference between schools and colleges in this regard.) At first glance, the fact that provision is made for such admissions appears an enlightened measure, for it implicitly acknowledges that artistic achievements can be factored into determining the worth of a candidate. The obsessive pursuit of better and better marks in the Board examinations has made most schools downgrade non-academic creative activity as a secondary and even irrelevant practice. Students who spend time nurturing diverse interests and talents do, in all probability, end up with lesser marks than single-minded swotters, but they are not poorer students for that. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true. So, what’s the harm if extra-curricular talent is used, in a little reverse flow, to enhance the candidate’s chances of admission, right?

No harm at all, especially as you can’t remember the last time when you saw cultural practice command a premium in the marketplace. Yet, things aren’t quite hunky-dory. A second glance reveals that this ‘enlightened measure’ is riddled with contradictions that float around unacknowledged as institutions blunder on with quaint notions of the education process. Why, I sometimes wonder, do colleges embark on these valuations of artistic worth if nothing changes down the line? It is the rare college that takes theatre activity seriously enough to offer realistic support in terms of scheduling, administrative support, budgetary grants and end-of-term honours. When institutional calendars designate cultural activity as mere recreation, it is understandable why admission processes too value and evaluate creativity in confusing terms.

The real problem, therefore, with this process is not, as is commonly argued, chicanery or the underhand attempts to buck the system – great Indian malady that: “have system, will buck!” – but that it lacks clarity of purpose. It is far easier to tackle the depredations of corruption or nepotism than it is to tackle the mess created by a muddle-headed approach to sports and cultural activity.

An instance of this mess is the divergence in the methods employed by different colleges to select candidates. The fact that there are no University guidelines for such admissions doesn’t help because it leaves college administrations free to flounder. In the absence of tested procedures, the time spent on evaluating an applicant’s artistic ability varies enormously. At some colleges, theatre candidates are disposed of with brutal efficiency in a flat 10-15 minutes each: 5 minutes for a brief performance of a prepared piece and the balance for displaying their general knowledge (‘name three Indian dramatists’) and their certificates to an interview panel. On the other hand, at another college that I shall leave unnamed, some 40 candidates are processed through several elimination rounds (comprising prepared pieces, extempore performances, text-analyses, solo and group improvisations, and interviews) that add up close to 30 hours over 2 days.

Unlike a casting audition where the playscript provides some framework for selection, general testing for talent in drama is fraught because of the absence of clear-sighted goals, the procedures by which these can be sought, and a level playing field where applicants from different backgrounds and schools are played off against one another. For instance, does one or does one not distinguish between applicants who have studied in schools that possess a reasonable equipped auditorium, employ a drama teacher and place theatrical activity in the weekly timetable and those whose schools have no time or money for such things? This is probably why admission committees rely on applicants’ certificates and brief presentations as a safe option. This procedure has the merit of appearing so objectively quantifiable that its inadequacy never ever comes to the fore.

Relying on certificates merely transfers the problem elsewhere, for then how does one assess the worth of such certification? In the absence of recognised inter-school drama festivals or training institutes, the drama certificates that most applicants produce relate to internal school activity, often indicating no more than the school’s initiative in matters cultural. This is a far cry from the creditworthiness of certificates produced by sportspersons to gain concessional admissions into colleges. With several tournaments organised for different age and proficiency levels in which students of different schools compete on relatively more level playing fields, sports certificates are fairly reliable indicators of achievement and potential — reliable enough, in fact, for forgery to have become a regular proposition!

It is equally risky to judge these young candidates by their prepared pieces alone, for it may be someone else’s ability – an adult teacher/director through whose hands the candidates have passed – that gets judged. (Of course, this cuts both ways when you consider the quality of drama instruction available in even our best schools.) Another problem is that these presentations often drip with mechanically heightened emotion — in the mistaken but understandable conviction, given the all-pervasive television soaps in which whole generations are being rinsed, that powerful acting is always exhibitionistic in intent. Finally, the ‘prepared piece and certificates’ formula is inadequate because it merely ascertains, however dubiously, the candidate’s past achievement without assessing her future potential. Admissions determined through these criteria end up looking like rewards for work already done, like certificates of merit that conclude rather than initiate a new activity. Surely the purpose of special admissions is the benefit that the college aims to derive from the student’s stay at the institution. What is therefore needed is a selection process that offers a more accurate picture of the candidate’s potential to work in the college – a process that tries, in a manner of speaking, to get beneath the skin, with the aim of observing individuals at work rather than superficially evaluating the packaged product that they make of themselves.

Such a process will still acknowledge past achievement, but only to the extent that it throws light upon the candidate’s potential. It will focus on assessing individual creativity by challenging it through the unpredictable structure of solo and group improvisation exercises. Apart from checking the candidate’s ability to work within a group, to accept direction and to critically analyse his own creative choices, the fact that all this takes an enormous amount of time will also make this process a test of stamina. The pressure to be creative under conditions of tension and fatigue is arguably the best test of performance ability, though one has to be careful not to overdo such terms of endurance.

Finally, the efficacy of any selection procedure, even the most enabling one, depends upon its rationale being understood and its implications worked out. The selection process’s emphasis on ‘potential’ and ‘usefulness’ rather than ‘past achievement’ means that in the case of over-qualified candidates, some hard decisions have to be taken. Some years ago, the son of a renowned violinist, a budding violinist himself, was granted an ECA admission at the college where I teach. But, between his classes and his tours with his father, he had no time left for playing in or for his college, and finally graduated from the institution having graced it with his instrument just a couple of times during that period. In drama too, many applicants today pop up with some experience of having acted for television. That sounds impressive alright, but this can be a real pain in the neck. For, not only are such candidates infected by the work ethic of the television studio, their commitments to the small screen leave them with little time for participating in college drama activity. Only colleges which bask in the reflected glory of their alumni welcome such stars. Others, with work goals defined in the present, continue their work with ordinary mortals and realisable potential.

Potential for what, is another question altogether. The academic year begins well with ECA admissions, but a couple of months down the line cultural activities get treated like the proverbial stepchild. For sports, there is a hectic University calendar; culture gets left to college students and their fizz-drink sponsors for whom culture is confined within Ramp Displays (ubiquitously christened Fashion Shows’) and Rock Shows. (The University does have a Culture Council in place but that is badly in need of some counsel and resuscitation.) Sports budgets are large and inviolate; ECA budgets are less than a tenth and constantly eaten into. Sports activities are run by faculty members appointed for the purpose; cultural activities are supervised, if at all, by regular teachers on a voluntary basis.

It is therefore not unusual to find that the categories under which the ECA admissions are made have precious little to show by the end of the year. Lack of accountability is in fact built into the system with teachers not being directly responsible for ensuring that the ECA students work, in the same manner in which they are accountable for taking classes or finishing their courses. In such a context, it is not out of place to wonder why colleges go through the trouble of having these admissions in the first place. The answer, I’m afraid, is not flattering at all.

If this is an unrelievedly depressing picture, let me point out that all cultural initiatives in the University have not collapsed. It is merely the system of the ECA admissions that has not delivered, not because it has been hijacked by vested interests but because the anxiety to appear just (more than the desire to be just) has led to the selections being carried out in thoroughly unimaginative fashions. Meanwhile, plays have been staged, instruments played, sketches made and photographs displayed, often on the strength of students who have not had to declare their artistic talents in order to gain admission.

Interestingly, the ECA admissions have worked when college administrations have not shied away from acknowledging the subjectivity of the selection process, and have insisted merely on it being an informed, committed and transparent subjectivity. In that lies the only insurance against possible abuse of such ‘licence’. Testing has to be entrusted to those teachers and senior students (and alumni) who have formulated projects for the year and will be responsible for carrying them out. An audit of each year’s activities will also prove useful. Finally, as in so much else, the viability of the system boils down to the integrity and commitment of the persons involved. There is no getting beyond this basic fact. At any rate, are these not crucial ingredients in any form of cultural practice?