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

Unknown said...

When you write such critical posts, you are being judged !
Not as judgemental, but you as a blogger. Your mind is blurred between the lines of Indian culture and Hindu Tradition on several instances. What an insult of an article this is TO YOU
What a waste of digital space!

Monita Bala said...

Hi Sowmya
Hope you’re well.

I am MONITA BALA, the emcee in question.
Firstly, I want to thank you for taking the time (back in 2012) to express this elaborate opinion of yours. Also, I admire your double standards, your arrogance and ignorance & most of all I admire how you think of yourself to be the flag bearer of our Indian Culture.
The very same culture you have both, appreciated and criticized in this post.

To start with, I apologize if my hosting offended you. As an artist, if my admirers are disappointed with my performance, it’s courteous of me to exptend an apology
So, again, I apologize if MY hosting offended YOU.

I make no apologies for the rest.

It certainly is shocking to see how many ASSUMPTIONS you’ve made! For a common man to make assumptions and go by it is one thing, but for a supposed blogger to make assumptions and blog ABOUT IT - it speaks loudly of your CLASS, your QUALITY & your ETIQUETTE

I feel sad for those poor souls who stumble upon your blog and read your articles because it’s nothing short of shoddy.

Right from my attire to the way I speak to my heels and down to the tiniest of them details -the bindi, you’ve had a lot to say about me; if only you bothered to have a decent conversation with you that morning, I’m certain your opinions would have been far altered.
Alas, you didn’t take the higher road and resorted to digital bitching.

Monita Bala said...

This is for you to know (I have no need to do this)

This half cultured emcee you speak of, refused to host the show upon learning that it was NOT a dance show but was a Sangeeth Utsav.

YES, the event you speak of so passionately was organized by a bunch of clowns who don’t seem to know the difference between a dance show and a Sangeeth Utsav.
My under-confidence led me to contact the other emcee and upon my request she accepted to host the second half of the show since she had prior commitments during the first half of the day.

I informed the event organizers the same, told them they’ll have to manage the first half of the event and proceeded to exit. They lacked sensitivity towards the situation and insisted that I start the show. After spending nearly 45 minutes arguing with those brainless idiots and going back and forth, I obliged, free of cost that too, since my Cheque went to the other emcee.

So your talks about me doing my homework and research is pointless, but had you done yours, you would have been a commendable blogger.

I feel shameful to have to say this to you, but your entire paragraph about my refusal to wear a bindi is beyond pathetic. If I were a Muslim, you would have not only offended me but you would have also insulted my religion!

Wearing a bindi is not Indian Culture, it is the fashion equivalent of wearing kumkum which is also not an Indian culture but a Hindu custom. India is a land of diverse culture.

I am agnostic by choice and Hindu by birth.
You might still be wondering why I chose not to wear a Bindi being a Hindu
Because I was mourning the loss of my father, who had passed away 6 months prior to the show. A fact that I don’t have to explain to strangers on the dais because It’s personal,
until you made it otherwise! (Thank you for that)

And if you were smart, you would have figured that the heels came to play because the dais stood at a height of 5 ft. & I stand at a height of 5.2 ft. You’d rather see my whole face behind the dais than just the top of my head. It’s called stage presence.

“The standards are low and tastes, poor. Anything with style, some cheap masala, with or without substance! Can be a winner”
These are your words. I choose these exact same words to describe your blog.

Sorry it took me a few years to reply, I wish I had stumbled upon this earlier

I have no doubt in my mind you’ll find it easy to understand my response, seeing how my English vocabulary in limited to only a dozen words.

Have a good life.

P.S. Next time you choose to be blinded by anger and hatred and rant like a college girl, take 5 minutes off and re-think, before you make a fool of yourself, AGAIN.

Sowmya Chakravarthy said...

Monita Bala whatever,…

You may study very hard throughout the year for your exams and still not do well because of several reasons such as falling sick, having relatives visiting you during exams, entering the wrong examination room etc., etc.
But regardless of the details of your sob story, you will be judged for your performance in the exam hall during those three hours.
And that’s what this criticism is.

You may have have many explanations about what happened that day, why you conducted the show the way you did, etc, but you will be judged for your emceeing as the audience saw it and not for what happened behind the screens and what was going on in your mind.

If you knew you weren’t qualified for the job and asked the organizers not to burden you with the task, then its unfortunate that you were thrown in a situation you didn’t need. Please read some articles on ‘The Art of Saying No’.

As for your Bindi.
Whether you are a Muslim or Christian, if you are hosting a Hindu cultural event, you are expected to wear a Bindi. If you were a Muslim unwilling to wear a Bindi, you would not be allowed to compere the event. You would be allowed however to be part of the audience since we are a tolerant people unlike your Muslim and Christian friends whose sentiments you are so worried about.

Yes, wearing a Bindi is a Hindu Custom.
A Sangeet Utsav in which every song or dance is devoted to Krishna or Saraswati, Ganesha or Rama is a Hindu Sangeet festival indeed and hence you are expected to wear a Bindi. The Bindi, on such an occasion, is conspicuous not by its presence by its absence., which is why so many elderly men and women requested you to put it on and lamented when you refused.

If you had your roots in the culture of this land, then you would have known that a woman removes her Bindi when she loses, not her father but her husband. And that too in the old days and not in the present time. You follow such customs though you are agnostic by choice? Also, you are ready to give up your Bindi during mourning but not your high heels? All this just shows you are half baked and confused and belong neither here nor there.

As for your high heels, your stage presence in such an event is irrelevant!
Did you notice that there was the figure of Goddess Saraswati on the stage? That all the artists were barefeet? In such a set up, who is even bothered about your stage presence? Do you realize how loud and annoying that tick tock sound of your heels were? How offensive to the artists it was?

Monita, even while defending all else about your emceeing, if you had just conceded the one point bout your high heels, that those heels were a mistake I would have gotten some consolation. But that you defend it using ‘stage presence’ and feel no regret about it even when I tell you why and how it was offensive, tells me that in all these 6 six years, you haven’t grown, you haven’t learnt and haven't evolved culturally.
I feel sorry for you.

As for your ‘expectations from a blogger’, a blogger is a common man and if you thought every blogger is a qualified critique, then you don’t know a thing about blogging either…

Digital bitching, did you say? If you were a man, I would ask you to grow a pair of balls. Since you are a woman, I ask you grow a stomach and take criticism with a pinch of salt.

Everyone who has read my blog has said I must write a book. But your dissing it using those words that I used for you, makes YOU a college girl who wants to rave and rant just because I haven’t said good things about you.

Do what you want with your life, just don’t offend classical arts and artists.