Punjab’s Culture Commission: ‘If you try to ban a trend , it draws more audience; counter bad with good’
It was no comedy act by Punjab cultural affairs minister Navjot Singh Sidhu when he announced formation of a Culture Commission to cleanse songs of obscenity and violence, on Saturday. However, it led to stirring among writers and artistes, evoking laughter and censure from those well versed in the aesthetics of arts. They also suggested measures other than banning to counter the trends — for instance, by promoting good music.
“Subcultures always exist, all over the world; and lodging FIRs or arresting artists is not the way,” said thespian Rani Balbir Kaur, referring to power that the commission would have. She argued, “One cannot evolve a code of conduct in arts or ban anything. In the past we saw ribald comedies of Sapru House exist side by side with serious theatre by National School of Drama in Delhi. The former fizzled out but the latter touched great heights.”
Making the announcement, Sidhu, who also worked with a comedy show, said the chief minister will be chairman and the cultural affairs minister (he, for now) the vice-chairman of the panel. Membership and norms will be decided as per a blueprint by Punjab Arts Council chairperson and poet Surjit Patar.
Some described the move as dictatorial. Punjabi poet Amarjit Chandan in a chat from London called it “moral policing, Khomeini style!” English professor and translator Rana Nayar asked: “Is Sidhu trying to play the culture czar?”
Punjabi fiction writer and music buff Des Raj Kali made a detailed point, “You may arrest singers or lyricists today, but what will you do with popular songs of Chamkila? One has to go to the root of such expressions. These are a phenomenon of the post-Green Revolution riches.”
“And what about the vulgarity in shows where phrases such as ‘Babaji ka th****’ were uttered amid peals of laughter?” he asked, referring to shows where Sidhu has been part of the cast.
Music director Atul Sharma underlined that there are elements of “vulgarity” even in folk music or songs that our women sing at weddings: “Code of conduct does not figure in art. It is either good art or poor art.”
Actor-singer Kamal Tewari suggested that the best way of countering “vulgar” trends is by arranging “good concerts, music competitions and awards for promising singers who work within the framework of aesthetics”.
“If you try to suppress or ban a trend , it draws more audience,” underlined Punjabi poet Paul Kaur. She added. “One is surprised when the minister says the commission will monitor social media. How?”
Patar too came under criticism from his friend and contemporary Chandan, who “corrected his claim that the commission will be made up of totally apolitical intellectuals”. Chandan commented, “Nothing is apolitical, my friend. Even the astrological charms that ministers wear on their wrists are very much political.”