Monday, December 07, 2009

A Counterview on Preservation

Adoor Gopalakrishnan, an award winning Malayalam film director, in one of his interviews talks about improvisation and contextualisation of performances in the context of Kerala's art forms. According to him no performance is a repetition of an earlier performance regardless of the sameness of its theme. He adds that the modern obsession with preservation (recording, documenting, etc.) is a western import.

This can be rubbished as the romantic view of an artist steeped in nostalgia. But there is some merit in this argument even in the context of education. At a time when one section of the e-learning fraternity is constantly arguing against the repetition of live lectures and replacing them with recorded ones, we tend to forget the fact that a great lecturer is also a great performer. She improvises and works on her argument each time she talks about the same concepts. Being a great fan of the TED lectures, I'm obviously in favour of recording, too; it's just that recording is not a replacement for a live lecture.

Excerpts from the Adoor interview:

“The problem with recording is that it would be taken for the norm. One of the great qualities of our culture is that nothing is staged or performed with a view to be preserved. Every performance is for that evening. Tomorrow it will be created again.

Once I went to Kadammanitta to watch Padayani. In the late evening they were all busy painting makeshift masks and making the costumes and those huge and spectacular headgears. All that is done on fresh arecanut sheaths and tender coconut leaves lending the make-up a certain ethnic authenticity. They take on a special glow in the light of the oil torches. Once the performance is over, those headgears and perishables are simply discarded. That night, when I came away I brought some of the masks with me. But after a day or two, they just withered and shrank. A Padayani performer doesn't have to create anything for preservation. He is confident that he can always create it anew, anytime, and always afresh. It is a great concept. Take our 'kalamezhuthu' for instance. We draw this colourful and wonderfully intricate Kalam only to erase it at the end of the ritual. This obsession with preservation is totally western--this idea of plucking something from its natural context and keeping it. For us it is part of a continuum. Our climate is not quite kind to the idea of preservation either. These torrential rains and sultry summers don't allow any kind of preservation. It destroys and in turn replenishes too. A summer would dry up everything. But rains would give everything a rebirth.”
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.