Sunday, November 04, 2012

High Culture. Low Class Emceeing by a Monita Bala @ Bangalore Sangeeth Utsav 2012

High culture. Classical music and dance. Performances by Padmashree/Padmavibhushan artists, dedicated to their chosen art for decades.

And what did the event management team have in mind when they chose this apology of an emcee, Monita Bala, for the event, that too for the first performance of the first day?

Really poor-quality, inappropriate emceeing by Monita Bala.
Perhaps she is fit for a profane thing like a fashion show or a beauty contest but certainly not for high culture.

It became obvious within minutes of her opening her mouth that her emceeing had no class, that she had very little talent and really no exposure to classical music or dance. For all her excitement about ‘Indian culture’, ‘Indian Culture’ at the mike, it was evident she knew and cared very little about our culture.

Worse, she had no sense of the etiquette, protocol and decorum expected and followed in the world of high culture. And this, to the extent that many of us in the audience were offended. God knows how the artists felt.

Someone said, she does corporate events mainly.
I would say, she would be unfit for corporate events as well.
For her English is quite poor.
Firstly her grammar is bad.“...the only woman ‘in’ the stage...”, “ an opportunity ‘for’ all of us...”
There were many other pathetic ones. How did she become a professional emcee with such poor English?
Her vocabulary consisted of half a dozen words. If I had to give some concession, I would say, half a dozen sentences; that too, sentences which were rehearsed before, cliche and not spontaneously issuing to suit the performance that had just been given. Like I said, very little talent.

And no homework.

The way she addressed the artists, for instance.
“...These guys...”, “...these guys are wonderful...” How appropriate to refer to Padmashree artists as ‘guys’?
I was told she addressed Kadri Gopalnath as “Mr. Kadri”, and he was offended. Breach of protocol, throughout.
I am simply grateful to him for not walking away, refusing to perform for ‘this crowd’.
But then, the crowd belonged to a different league, not the culturally impoverished one represented by the emcee; the crowd was sick of her.

After the dancers had finished, she made ridiculous and immature remarks, one after another.
“They have demonstrated what we all call Indian culture!” Cliche...a pathetic one. A westerner would have come up with better lines.
“...they danced for 1 hour non stop!...”
If she had any exposure to/knowledge of classical dance she would have known that classical dancers usually perform for 2 to 3 hours continuously. By expressing her surprise at their ability to dance for one hour, she not only revealed her ignorance but also embarrassed the artists, who would have preferred other finer points to be noted about their performance.

“You have my respect!”
The artist is already highly respected by all and does not need any of your patronizing.
Who do you think you are encouraging? Some amateur struggling youngster who looks up to you for your little encouragement and will be grateful to you for your respect?
These are accomplished celebrated artists who are revered everywhere they go by all and there is no question of someone not respecting them.
Like I said, she does not know the etiquette.
If you don’t know the right thing to say, you could just keep your mouth shut.

And once again, “You have my respect. And I am sure you have the respect of every one in the audience too”
“Thank you, like I said, for demonstrating Indian culture” Cliche again...

“...Can we have a huge round of applause for...?”
Again and again, she appealed to the audience to applaud.
This again must have been insulting to the world acclaimed artists: to have applause from the audience after repeating goading by an emcee.

The right thing for an emcee to offer artists of such high culture and calibre on the occasion of their performance, in a gathering such as this, is humility and gratitude. The tone of speaking too has to be humble and grateful and not animated and over excited as in a college festival.
Even appreciation, if it is not coming from someone who really understands the art and the artist can be immature, embarrassing, even offensive to the artist. Imagine saying something like “....they danced for 1 hour!...they demonstrated Indian culture!’
If you wish to offer appreciation you better be sure you understand what you are endeavouring to appreciate.

Apart from all the above deficiencies in the emceeing, a glaring lapse (the very first thing) that I and everyone else actually noticed was the conspicuous absence of the Bindi on her forehead!
She could be without her make up, hairdo, high heels...nobody would care.
But the Bindi? It was the first thing expected.
For what is the first thing about Indian culture, as far as the appearance of a woman goes? Is it not the Bindi on the forehead? The one ornament that is indispensable to the rich and poor woman alike, the others being optional?
I don’t wear a Bindi every day, but on the occasion of a cultural event, it’s the first thing I put on. And why shouldn’t we?
Even after several senior persons in the audience as well as the organisers personally requested her, she refused to wear a Bindi!
How could she go on stage without it, on an occasion like this?

And those annoying heels.
While all the artists on the stage were barefeet, in humility and reverence for Saraswati, the Goddess of art, music and learning, this woman was strutting about the stage in her high tick-tocking heels.
Where is your sense of propriety?

You may feel like telling me ‘there is no one standard, one code, etc.’
There may be many standards but you have to choose the one that is required of the occasion, that is appropriate for the occasion.
What would you think of someone licking their fingers at dinner in a party in a 5 star hotel? No etiquette? No manners?
Or someone in an IT office who when offered a handshake, will shirk from it and do a Namaste instead? Impolite? Not aware of protocol?

While we take care to follow the protocol of the westerners, feel ashamed when we fault at it, or follow it even when not required, like eating with fork and spoon in the privacy of our homes, why don’t we feel ashamed of our ignorance of the social protocol of our own culture?
Not following the expected protocol in a traditional environment is as much a matter of poor etiquette, manners, as shameful as not following the prescribed protocol in an English environment.

I feel sorry for the artists who had to perform in the presence of such an inadequate emcee.
I know how sensitive, self respecting these artists are: they could have easily said “we will not perform for such a crowd” and walked away.

You may wonder why I am so angry. I generally can’t stand it when I see half cultured fellows, with poor breeding, especially in cities, having acquired some style, strutting about, thinking themselves very smart and cool. This post is not about one emcee, but a class of people she represents, who though culturally impoverished, have delusions about themselves, having acquired money and ‘modernity’ of style. She only happened to be the last straw.
I am angry because the woman did not have the humility to accept feedback and respect requests made by elderly people in the audience – request to be more respectful towards the artists, to wear a Bindi, to change her emceeing style to suit the occasion.
Not knowing something is pardonable, but not having the willingness to learn, or even worse, to think of your yourself as great while you are actually pathetic – that pisses off people and you feel like showing them a mirror and putting them in their proper places.
And from her attitude, it became apparent she thought herself great while all she had was some style (which is useless without substance), substandard English, very little talent and no exposure to culture.

When we asked the event management folks why they picked her of all the people, they said she has ‘many profiles’.
That’s the unfortunate thing about the half cultured, half educated crowd in these so called cosmopolitan cities that will applaud and approve of any Tom Dick & Harry.
I see it so often, especially in the theatre.
Sometimes, it’s an obviously disappointing play but most of them in the audience are laughing, clapping and enjoying themselves, and saying ‘awesome’, ‘awesome’ as they come out of the theatre.
The standards are low and tastes, poor. Anything with style, some cheap masala, with or without substance, can be a winner.

I really wish event management teams, would choose, for such cultural events, a person who has exposure to culture, who has learnt music or dance, or even a person who simply loves the arts, most importantly someone who has an attitude of reverence towards high culture and not someone to whom this is just another emceeing assignment, an opportunity to earn some money, not some jerk who treats models/film stars and classical artists alike.

Fortunately, for the afternoon session which started with the golden voice of Shri Vidyabhushan(of Udupi), we had a different emcee, a woman who knew where she was and what she was doing. She conducted herself in a manner that became the occasion; her tone showed that she possessed a sense of occasion and her remarks, eloquent and thoughtful, showed much talent.


Asha said...

Well written, even i have seen many such MC's @ classical shows. Classical show Mc's require a different modulation. The intonation should have humility in the voice. And, you are so right about the dressing sense. hope better sense prevails on the organizers next time. Oh, btw i miss these concerts of Bangalore. i am a bangalorean :).

Sowmya said...


Welcome to my blog... and thanks for your words... when I write such critical posts, I am usually afraid I will be judged as judgmental!

I visited your blogs... quite interesting...

Keep coming here :)

Giri said...

Well, well, well! Look who's complaining now (reference your latest blog on people complaining about India.) Things do come full circle.

dev said...

Hi sowmya,
just went through your blog....well the emcee did do a objectionable work as per you....well guess if she did something wrong or objectionable(as per u) well maybe should have told her bout it than slamming her on a public medium.
guess u could have done better