A Different Take On Saarang


The following article was sent to T5E by a member of the IITM community.

Over my years in insti, I’ve seen quite a bit at Saarang. I’ve seen events reach soaring highs and plumb the depths. I’ve seen roaring Popular Nights and whimpering Rock Shows. And, this year, when I’m looking at it as an outsider, I see new controversies brewing – controversies over overly aggressive publicity, some of which has been done in questionable ways. Specifically, I refer to two incidents. One, the promotion of this year’s Rock Show band, Architects, through a LitSoc event (albeit Queen of Sheba where anything and everything can happen). Two, an ‘obscene’ picture of two unnamed girls at Carnival being put up on Facebook as part of ‘Saarang Crazy Moments’ for people to gawk at, like and share on their timelines.

The second of these incidents was an anomaly, and thankfully righted by timely action (the picture is no longer on Facebook). However, the first is actually an ostensible form of a problem that’s always existed. The problem is this: Saarang, over the past few years (perhaps since Opeth arrived in our Golden Jubilee year and changed things forever), has begun to overrate its proshows. It’s perhaps time to ruminate over what the exact purpose of some of these proshows are, especially the Rock Show, which makes a loss every year. This is not without reason. The Rock Show has proved to be a conundrum no one has cracked as yet. Heavy metal bands, mainstream metal bands, classic rock tribute bands, pop bands – each of them has its own reason for not working out monetarily. Unfortunately, post-Opeth, the Saarang team’s (and insti’s) expectations of the Rock Show climbed steeply. And interestingly, the most-attended rock shows over my years here have been Indian shows: Parikrama (although this was a free concert, part of the NxG Rockstar competition) and Scribe (who overshadowed the foreign band they opened for, and with good reason).

All this makes one wonder about the craze for the Rock Show as it is, and introspect to see whether it’s really just a tired old project. Perhaps, it’s time to reinvent it (by trying out Indian bands, say, or by trying catchy pop/classic rock bands), or put it in the scrap-heap.

More ideologically, the overselling of proshows is undermining what really is the heart and soul of Saarang: events. In events which are well-publicized (such as music events and Choreo), the level of competition is unmatched by most other cultural fests in India. Mood Indigo, which is the biggest cultural fest in the country, has its fair share of events, but they are treated as a secondary attraction, and that is clearly reflected in their competition pool (with the notable exception of LiveWire, their semi-professional band competition). High levels of competition exist even in events at Saarang which get their due neither in publicity nor in prize money, such as quizzes. Quizzers from insti routinely prove their mettle at other quizzes in Chennai and outside, yet win less often at Saarang. Counterintuitively, quizzes at fests like SRM’s Aarush, and even one of insti’s own department fests, Amalgam, offer a greater amount of prize money than Saarang. (This is also true for Shaastra’s quizzes.) Even other events that are relatively neglected, such as word games, writing and speaking events, set a mean standard.

One also flashes back to tidbits of information about Mardi Gras, Saarang’s predecessor. The presence of present-day stalwarts like A.R. Rahman in its music competitions makes a strong statement for the festival’s prestige even then. In a recent interview, the Director, Bhaskar Ramamurthi, mentioned a quiz final being conducted at OAT to a huge audience during his days in insti. One wonders, then, why traditions like this particular one are dying, and whether this is a good thing.

So the question remains: What is Saarang trying to be? Is it trying to be a Mood Indigo, with huge shows and flashy stalls? If so, there’s no way in hell it will succeed. The combination of a professionally organized fest and the locale of Bombay is entirely too hot to handle. Perhaps, it’s possible for Saarang to take a humbler turn. To sell what really is its unique selling point. To replace outdated publicity about Opeth’s performance five years ago with publicity about Saarang Dramatics and Writing Awards and whatnot. To advertise increased prize money in events where Saarang cash has been rightfully diverted. To be known in India as not necessarily close to the biggest cultural festival, but possibly the best.

Yeah, they’re not the same thing.

Note from the author: I recognize that my opinion is perhaps impractical and uninformed to some extent. This is just my personal take on what Saarang could be, and reflects on a general trend rather than on any particular year.

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