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Indian soft power shines bright in Berlin

The country made its presence felt over a weekend where seven mentors and protégés showcased their work across some of the Berlin's most historic venues.

 |  Rough Cut  |  3-minute read |   06-02-2018
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India was the flavour of the eighth cycle of the Rolex Arts Weekend 2018 in Berlin. Even as the city celebrated the Berlin Wall being destroyed for as many days as it had been up, Indian soft power made its presence felt over a weekend where seven mentors and proteges showcased their work across some of Berlin's most historic venues.

There was Chaitanya Tamhane, the young director of Court, who was mentored by the great Alfonso Cuaron, largely on set of his return-to-Mexico movie, Roma. Tamhane who is ready with his new script and begins shooting for the film later in the year won enormous praise from Academy Award-winning Cuaron for having the courage and assurance to make a first film which was so brave.

There was former mentor Mira Nair who is excited about the eight-hour piece of cinema she is shooting for television based on a book beloved by all – she is casting for its 140 characters and shooting begins for it in India. "It's the culmination of my life's work. I call it The Crown in Brown, not for the subject matter but for the scale. It's a book I've loved since the day it was written," said Nair. There was AR Rahman, who has acted as an adviser to the Rolex Mentor and Protege programme, talking of the importance of using music to create leaders and erase the boundaries of caste and class that divide us. And there was tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, in absentia, being made mentor for the ninth cycle in music.


India was in the air – in debates, discussions and in dissent. Homi Bhabha, the Anne F Rotherberg Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, talked of the paradox of several leaders speaking of global cosmopolitanism outside their nation and practising a sort of barbaric nationalism at home. He also mentioned the politics of dishonour that is focused against the minorities, a point picked up by Sir Anish Kapoor, possibly one of the world's most influential contemporary artist. Kapoor spoke of the problems he encountered in France while making the piece now infamously referred to as the "Queen's Vagina" at the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, which has remarkable similarities with the Padmaavat case.

"Artists have to transgress this project that builds fear," said Kapoor, "But we have to be better organised." India was also the inspiration for the mentor for music, the legendary Philip Glass. Glass whose Satyagraha came off a chance introduction to Mahatma Gandhi on a visit to Kalimpong in the 1970s, which if anyone has any sense should immediately be performed at the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma in 2019. 

At a moment in time when the arts are under threat in India from the curse of internal censorship and the danger of offending multiple sensitivities, it is good to see that the world's finest practitioners of words and images are so proudly Indian. So even as Bhabha underlined with his typical elegance the two great paradoxes of our time – global cosmopolitanism outside and narrow nationalism at home; as well as blending of technology and mythology – he believes in the talent in India and its liberal democratic tradition. As the Rolex arts weekend showed, he has every reason to.

And Pico Iyer, one of the advisers, just recently back from the Jaipur Literature Festival, extolled the virtues of the book being alive and well in India, and the hunger for knowledge being so appealing given the level of disinterest in the rest of the world. Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too - few know this better than Berliners. But as long as enough people exist to defend the word and the image, India is still safe.

Also read: Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat is actually about 'good Hindus' and 'bad Muslims'


Kaveree Bamzai Kaveree Bamzai @kavereeb

Consulting editor, India Today Group

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