The South Asian Times

20 September 2018 12:17 PM

IndianRaga - Nudging performing arts into the digital age

By Suchitra Srinivas

With an MIT degree in business administration and being an alumnus from IIT Bombay, would you say no to lucrative offers from Wall Street? After all, this is where you wanted to see yourself at.

Not always and not for everyone; and certainly not for this young man, Sriram Emani, an exception to established tradition.

Striving hard to write new definitions for performing arts in the age of digitalization and marketing, Sriram, in his early thirties, threw away lucrative corporate offers to get back to where his passion was. ‘IndianRaga’ became an international brand in a short span of a few years. Spectacular video productions marketed through YouTube channels, featuring over 5,000 upcoming artists spread across 25 US cities, IndianRaga has made an impressive impact in Indian classical art terrain.

The richness of Indian classical music and dance has mesmerized art lovers for over generations. With so much of technological revolution and digitalization of each moment, the speed and contours of our life have kept changing, you would imagine the world of performing arts had to change too. It is here Sriram felt disturbed that something was missing.

Born and brought up in Mumbai in a conservative Brahmin family, Sriram was introduced to training in Carnatic music at a young age. As a child he could never understand why everyone talked about how to become an engineer, doctor or lawyer but not a word on how to become a musician; including his mother who insisted on his rigorous music practice never prescribed a defined route. This was a genuine concern to him.

Learning Carnatic music or classical dance have always been demanding, many times the journey has been lonely. Waiting to get on to stage for his turn, as he experienced the adrenalin rush, and of course winning prizes, young Sriram was more bothered by the fact that recognition stopped with the top performers. The world knows Zakir Hussain as maestro Tabla player.  A name for the second in line, no one wants to know.

Clearly there was a lack of an ecosystem defining the growth path for students learning the art, felt Sriram.  How to make learning meaningful and engaging? How to showcase these rich art forms to the world outside in the most appealing manner? Sriram was all the time looking for answers to these questions.

Working for a well-known consulting firm in New York in 2007, Sriram got exposed to Broadway musicals such as Phantom of the Opera: amazing production by local artists, pristine quality of performance with live singing and dance, full of costumes, repeat performances for 16 years over 1000 night. His dream was to try to replicate such brilliant productions in Indian classical art form. Determined and geared to give the Indian performing arts a new and inviting look for the changing world, Sriram went boldly into performing art productions.

His study at the MIT furthered his passion to showcase Indian arts in the new format. Short video capsules of three-hour long concerts just to expose the young talent to new challenges was the plan.

IndianRaga was formally launched in 2012. “The response since then has been tremendous -- the first fellowship received 150 applications and we could accept only 11,” said Sriram.

The vision was clear and three-fold. Create a platform for young artists to collaborate with different art forms and come out with completely new creation within the traditional boundaries. Offer fellowship to students giving opportunities to interact with veteran artists through new projects, an experience that is an integral part of learning currently not accessible to everyone. And thirdly, for a meaningful learning experience IndianRaga offered continuous testing and certification in art forms with exclusive course content that prepared learners with nuances of performance.

The social media following crossed 20 million users in a short time, which was a complete endorsement of the concept, said Sriram.

“Opportunities to perform in well-known sabhas is a long wait but IndianRaga productions actually gives chance to showcase creativity of young artists in a reputed platform,” said an art lover and parent of a child training in Carnatic music who calls this as a novel revolution.

“The video productions from IndianRaga is absolute in quality, well determined to maintain tradition and modernity at the same time. The young world was more attracted to the showcase aspect. And it was really done carefully so that each production gave a complete experience of the art form to both the performers and the audience,” said Parvathy Subramani, classical dancer and teacher.

IndianRaga labs offered a unique opportunity to work in recording studios. Formal training in classical music never exposes one to the voice culture and modulation aspects unless one gets to work in a studio. This sort of lab experience made most realize the importance of sruthi and layam perfection aspects of art form, Santhanam Ramalingam, a parent, observed.

The video productions of doing and re-doing emphasizing the way one carried their smiles, the dressing patters, including the color coordination of costumes with fellow artists on stage, all strengthened the presentation skills of the artist.

MIT, Stanford, Harvard universities have acknowledged the quality production of Indian classical arts by IndianRaga and now it is prestigious for a college application to mention a certificate or production experience with IndianRaga, said Sriram.

Live theater shows at Lincoln Center and Chicago performing arts center brings a whole lot of new interest in Indian classical art forms to the western audience. The understanding of maodharma (improvisation) aspects exclusive to Indian art forms is a bit complex for novice art lovers. It is here that the short, crisp and attractive video productions help kindle interest among a whole new set of audience.

IndianRaga has clearly opened new terrains of learning, performance and art creations.  Thousands of art teachers, students and creative composers across the globe get opportunity to showcase their talents on a broader platform.

This December, IndianRaga will spread its wings into India with a formal launch of its productions in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad. “India is growing at a tremendous pace and is now willing to invest in soft skills including all art forms in a big way. “Even before we announced official launch we received hundreds of applications from these cities. Simultaneously IndianRaga labs will be making its debut in Singapore as well,” said Sriram. He is also making plans to expand across verticals to include art forms creating a brand of excellence.

True, if today’s historians study the past by making excavations of the earth, tomorrow’s archeologists will have to engage in digital excavation. It is here that preserving rich art forms of India in the contemporary yet authentic style through digital platform assumes immense significance. Definitely, IndianRaga is writing the pages of future history and at the same time opening new doors for performing arts and artists of this generation. A job well begun!

Website: indianraga.com

Update: 28 Dec, 2017

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