Nothing to beat a good festival to drum up some interest in the otherwise jaded audiences. The recent spate of festivals and the phenomenal success they received in terms of footfalls have now set the trend. The years to come will see sponsors vying with one another to put in mega-money into festivals.
Village people have their melas to fulfil their social needs like meeting friends and relatives from neighbouring villages. City people have their literature, drama, music and film festivals. The spirit is the same. To congregate and catch up on gossip with an apparent sense of purpose. In the city, sensation replaces gossip. So unless you can rustle up a good controversy, your festival isn't really a successful one.
The Jaipur Literature Festival, now considered the mother of all festivals in India, owes Rushdie its international recognition. After his absence and the reading of The Satanic Verses by some authors, the festival received global publicity that would have otherwise cost them millions in dollars. More recently, The Mumbai Lit Fest, which went about without much attention, suddenly shot to fame with the comments of Girish Karnad. The festival was in the main news of all media channels and newspapers for almost a week. No amount of paid publicity can match the kind of coverage they received after the festival.
So now, the pressure is on for future festivals to match up in scandal, sizzle and slur. Next in line is the Bangalore Literature Festival, which will seem comparatively tame unless I decide to add some spice to my session. Theatre director Ashish Sen will be in conversation with me, so do watch out. We might just have something brewing and stirring. (Unfortunately he isn't game for some dare-bare act, either skin or scandal). So it is up to me now to say or do something that will earn me a reputation.
Maybe I can kick up some dust by saying all Kannada writers are mediocre. The first day's news will cover my remarks, quoted out of context, I will always add. The second day's news will cover Kannada writers who will rightfully point out that I have only read two Kannada writers, that, too, in translation. And the third day's coverage will be a debate on English versus 'vernacular' writers. And the fourth day it will all be shaken off like yesterday's dandruff but I will have received my invitations to the next couple of festivals with a prime slot given to me. Maybe I can resurrect the newsworthiness, after a week or so, by having some local language fanatic group burn my plays, but that will depend on how negotiable the price for such acts of vandalism is. I think there might be an equal publicity-share system in place for that.
Compared with literary festivals, theatre and music festivals tend to be rather tame. Not that the world of the performing arts is without its share of fragile egos, limelight-grabbing tactics and artistic enmities. But I can't think of one that went the scandal route. Maybe I can set a precedent.
The next in line is the Centre Stage Festival at the NCPA with a line up of some really good plays by well-known groups (fragile egos and artistic enmities notwithstanding!). Maybe one of us could stage a brawl at the staid NCPA café. It might cost us a broken bone or a bruised eye but it is sure to get the local photographers clicking away. I think a bruised face makes a better picture than a broken rib. The next day, to keep things going, we will talk about suing one another and even file an FIR or something. The police will try and intervene so they can focus on better things, but we will scream and call them inefficient and biased. That will surely give us some coverage till our plays open to full houses. Wait a minute. I think some movie star has already done that. There goes a good idea. Damn. The problem is that these tactics work only once. Maybe twice, depending on whether you can bring a fresh angle to it. One has to get creative all the time.
I think I have got a brand new idea. I will actually say something nice. That will be a novelty. Something like, “I look forward to meeting my good friends at the festival.”