As long as IPL was about a new format of cricket, entertainment and advertising, it was predictable and of minor interest to me. But I was hooked yesterday when I saw this fascinating encounter of the regular pompom wielding cheer girls of Chennai Super Kings with the elegantly attired (and beautiful) girls performing bharatanatyam-lavani blend ! That is a new battle field opening up for India’s encounter with this televised variety of ‘popular’ and ‘modern’. Modern Art galleries, Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathakali performances on the very visible squares of London and New York and finally Bollywood have been the battle scenes where the classical Indian art forms clashed with the popular styles from around the world. The changes wouldn’t be noticed until a good number of years pass and one wakes up to notice that this ain’t what it was a few years back.
That I call it a clash is not my impression of it. Look at the conversations happening! A Mumbai team fan mocks at his friend who is rooting for Pune for the ‘cheer queens’ the team has. And another calls them Pune Aunties. HT writes, the sari-clad cheerleaders of the Pune Warriors have failed to make an impact on the field. ToI observes, No dirty dancing for Team Pune’s cheer queens. A classical dancer feels that classical dance on the cricket field is an insult to the dance form. Yet, some like me watch it like a curious phenomenon and wish to see more of it. It somehow doesn’t seem to be going down well with the people and we have a mix of reactions. Going by the popular mill it appears that the classical dance performing ‘cheer queens’ are not hot enough. Most immediately turn to and look forward to the conventional cheer girls – the ones with pompoms. Oh, and the cheer queens don’t go with anything like that in hand.
What is it that is not ‘delivered’ by the cheer queens that the cheer girls do? Asked differently, is it the sense of aesthetics that drive these reactions to the cheer girls vs cheer queens performance on the cricket field or the desire to see more skin? Of course the cheer queens have much of their bodies covered and draped in a not so revealing sense than the cheer girls. And if the cheer queens are not finding favour with the audience then what could be the reason? I strongly suspect that aesthetics or culture or anything of that sort is not at play here. More skin equals more entertainment and guarantees more visibility.
In such an environment it will be fascinating to see how these classical dance forms hold ground. For one I think this is a battle which is quite necessary for the Indian dance forms to win if we are to see a resurgence of classical and traditional Indian dance forms to gain some ground in the popular consumption spaces. I see a tension here and of course when I term it as an encounter. But this is not to argue for or against the ‘western’ influences. It is just to closely observe public imagination and impression of art forms of their own region or country. A modest exercise, yet important in the interest of studying culture and society. And how modern India will traverse this terrain.