Panel discussion at NCPA focuses on need for people like Jamshed, Homi Bhabha

May 17, 2018, 07:44 IST | Benita Fernando

A panel discussion at the NCPA on the need for more patronage of the arts sheds light on large-hearted visionaries Jamshed and Homi Bhabha and why the city needs more people like them

Arundhathi Subramaniam, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Khushroo Suntook, Shyam Benegal, Dr Vijaya Mehta and Anil Dharker at the Jamshed Bhabha theatre. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Arundhathi Subramaniam, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Khushroo Suntook, Shyam Benegal, Dr Vijaya Mehta and Anil Dharker at the Jamshed Bhabha theatre. Pic/Bipin Kokate

It was only fitting to bring together a panel to discuss the importance of the promotion of culture and value of patronage to the arts at the inauguration of a permanent exhibit in memory of Dr Jamshed J Bhabha, the late co-founder of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). Wednesday evening, the Nariman Point-based performance venue and cultural institution unveiled the permanent memorial, which comprises his belongings, awards and archival photographs, at its Jamshed Bhabha Theatre.

Fond, awed memories
The panellists for the evening were theatre director and actor Dr Vijaya Mehta, renowned filmmaker Shyam Benegal, NCPA's chairperson Khushroo Suntook, director of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) Sabyasachi Mukherjee, and poet and artiste Arundhathi Subramaniam. Moderated by writer Anil Dharker, the panellists had all been associated with either NCPA or Bhabha at some point in their career. The discussion thus began with many fond, and some awed, memories of Bhabha, underlining the kind of determined benefactor of the arts and cultural endeavours that he was.

Benegal described Bhabha, and his brother, noted nuclear physicist Homi J Bhabha, as the Medicis of Mumbai, for their significant contributions to shape the cultural landscape of the city. Both he and Suntook recalled how Bhabha would not just monetarily support his employees and the arts, but also urged others to do so. At a fundraising dinner, said Suntook, a gentleman had challenged Bhabha asking how much he'd donate. "Not more than R5 lakh?" the gentleman had said. To which, Bhabha swiftly wrote a cheque for Rs 1 crore, and asked the gentleman to match his offer.

Culture matters
The conversation took a tone of more urgency in the latter half, after Dharker asked why we have a shortage of benefactors and patrons for the arts and culture in the country. The government focuses on primary education and health, which are important, but what about culture? he asked. Mukherjee said the problem in our country was the low budgetary allocation for research in the humanities. Suntook then evoked a lecture given by a UK Culture Secretary [presumably Maria Miller] who had said "culture matters". "Whether we're talking about our performing arts, museums and galleries, creative industries, built heritage, or any other form of culture, it is clear that culture matters to us because it elicits a response," Miller had said in 2014.

Money or tax breaks
Raising comparisons, Suntook mentioned how Austria thrives on music as a form of tourism and revenue generation, and how the UK proved that for every pound they spent on culture, they earned four in turn. The USA has 1,200 professional symphony orchestras, he said, while India has just one. "What we require is dynamic support; even if it's not money, then it can be in the form of tax breaks," he said, adding that corporates need to give more support to the arts. To this, Dharker remarked, indicating several of their corporate guests seated in the front rows, that there was ample patronage coming from them.

Change for literature
Subramanian said there has been a change for literature, however, as more innovative curatorial practices have helped people to appreciate it better through "an epidemic of literary festivals in the country", and the same can happen for the classical arts, such as dance and music. "Far too often, sponsors are intermittent or erratic, or support one small cabal of stars. We need to move to a more hospitable vision," she said. Mukherjee said, "Culture has no boundary and belongs to everyone." As the director of a museum that receives neither state nor central government funding, he said, "Then who supports us? The people of Mumbai do. It is something that is completely different from New Delhi or Kolkata."

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