The Park’s The Other Festival - 2005  
    Music. Dance. Drama. Art. You.  
    The Museum Theatre, Chennai 
    The Other Festival 2005, an annual event  in Chennai: A Review 
    By Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan 
    e-STQ / 032 / 11.1.06 
    The Other Festival has become an annual event of Chennai. The  dates are fixed - first to seventh of December. This is the eighth  year of this festival. The organizers – Anita Ratnam and  Ranvir Shah began this festival, as they wanted to create a forum  where artists from the fields of dance, drama, music and other  art forms could showcase their experimental works. Chennai is  noted for its partiality towards classical art forms and the organizers of The Other Festival wanted to make a dent in this  attitude of Chennai art connoisseurs and create an alternate platform  for experimental works. Right now there are very few venues and  occasions in the whole of India for the exhi bition of modern or  experimental performance works and hence the importance of The  Other Festival in Chennai. The timing also was fixed in such a  way so that this festival would precede the usual classical music  and dance season in Chennai, which used to begin on 15 December.  Artists from India as well as abroad have been taking part in  this festival. Many well known artists have premiered their works  in The Other Festival. Famous among them are Ramli Ibrahim, Veenapani  Chawla, Maya Rao, Astad Deboo, Arjun Raina, Jaimini Pathak, Nissar  & Amal Allana, who have been guests of The Other Festival  more than once.  

    But, this year's festival highlighted certain trends  and brought to the fore how fragile forums for experimental work  have become. First of all, the fact that the classical music and  dance season has been preponed to begin on the same day as The  Other Festival is a significant pointer. This could hurt the audience  participation for the Other Festival. But, Anita chooses to look  on this as a favourable event. In her opinion, it is an endorsement  or reiteration from the organizers of the classical season that  The Other Festival has over the years become a fair contender  and competitor for them. However, in reality, as the dates clash,  the tendency of people may be to go to the known and more established  festival events and thus The Other Festival may loose out on audience  participation. Secondly, the quality of the Other Festival Programmes  has also dwindled giving rise to the criticism that the organizers  have become complacent and indifferent. The need for The Other Festival to re-evaluate their aims and objective s and  get a better exposure to world-class experimental programmes has  been discussed. An audience survey reflecting the growth, market  penetration and credibility also may help to assess the popularity  of the festival with the audience.  
    The other significant change is in the sponsorship  accorded to The Other Festival. The Park Hotel, one of the main  sponsors during the last few years continue to offer their support  this year too. But Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (HSBC), Sify and a  few others have dropped out giving the reason that they do not  get enough publicity from the event. Others have stepped in like  Mehta Jewellers, Amara Home Furnishings etc, but they are not  the heavyweights that the earlier ones are. The organizers of &nb sp;The Other Festival have to sit up and seriously assess as to why  this has happened. Is this a reference to the dwindling in audience  participation for various events? Without the required finance,  The Other Festival or any other such event cannot survive or invite  quality performers to participate.  

    On the plus side, one of the good things that has  happened to the festival is that they have once again come back  to Museum Theatre from where they used to originally conduct the  festival. The Museum Theatre is ideal for this or any such festival  because of its central location, the car parking facilities, the  stage and acoustics, the intimate atmosphere it brings in on account  of the semicircular seating etc. The hospitality to the arti sts  is still very good and the ticket rates are reasonable and affordable.  The support given by cultural organisations such as The Alliance  Francaise, the Max Mueller Bhavan and the British Council to The  Other Festival continues. In fact, this year the foreign performers  have been brought in mainly through the support of these and similar  organizations. It is indeed good to have the support of these  cultural organisations, but the question remains, why haven't  some of the Indian cultural organisations come forward offering  their help to this significant event? Is it on account of the  lack of enthusiasm of the organisers, or is it because of the  bureaucracies that surround these cultural organisations? The  persistence and loyalty of the organizers to this event is evident  from the fact that both of them were present throughout the programmes  and took the trouble to encourage the artists immensely . The Other  Festival involves student organisations to help them with transport  arrangements for the artists, ushering and ticket management.  This continues though it is a new student organisation that they  used this year. The unusual heavy rains that lashed out during  the festival time marred the programmes to some extent. Audience  could not reach the venue on time. The space in front of the first  row of seats for the audience was often flooded. Some of the shows  could not start on time on account of inevitable delays. One of  the programmes had to be changed at the last minute on account  of the illness of the main performer. But, The Other Festival  chugs along and did have one or two good programmes.  

    Over the years, the import ance given to dance and  theatre has evened out. This year there were four dance events  and an equal number of theatre events. Music events have dwindled  to two. The theatre events were all from national groups while  two of the dance events were from abroad. One of the musical events  was also from an international artist. One can safely assume that  in the area of theatre the shift from the international to the 
    national groups has taken place. Also, this year, two of the local  artists have been given a chance and prominently featured in The  Other Festival. These are indications of the fact that there is  more experimentation in India in the field of theatre than in  the field of dance and even music. This is indeed heartening for  the theatre movement.  

    But, the quality of some of the programmes of the  experimental variety prompts this critic to ask two questions,  how experimental are these experimentations and do these experimentations  reflect the innovation, rigour and quality consciousness that  all experiments should have. One cannot be too critical of experiments  for an experiment by its very nature is always work-in-progress  and therefore has an unfinished quality about it. If one starts to question the lack of perfection in these  productions, the experimenter may get disappointed and disillusioned  and give up the experiment altogether. The fact remains that even  now, the corporate funding is given more towards the established  and popular works. So, if the experiment does not get the support  of the audience or the discerning critic, the sponsor also may  back out from his sponsorship. Taking into consideration all these facto rs, I have to state that the quality  of some of the theatre productions were below par.  

    The concluding part of this article will be  carried in e-STQ next week.  
    Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan is a theatre critic and commentator  and can be contacted at  


    What is The Other Festival?   
    • The Other Festival   • 2005