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August 24, 2017

Sanjoy Roy on Bridging The Creative Gap Between India And The World

Text by Sharmi Ghosh Dastidar. Photograph by Rishabh Malik

“The youth is not just a repository of fresh ideas, they are also veering towards the classical arts. They identify with our rich roots”

Sample this. In 2011, when Oprah Winfrey’s team got in touch with Teamwork Arts, expressing their eagerness in the celebrity being part of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) in January 2012, the request energised Sanjoy Roy’s colleagues — for here was a global personality wanting to be part of an event that was still growing. This was enough proof that its literary powwows were creating a buzz beyond borders.

For the last 24 years, Teamwork Arts, of which Roy is the co-founder and managing director, has been bridging the gap between India and the world in the creative realm by organising about 26 different festivals and events celebrating the rich heritage of our country. These provide a sound platform to the finest Indian writers, artists and performers. “What we aim for is that not just renowned artists but even talented fledglings should be given a fair chance to be recognised. India’s heritage can be moulded to regale contemporary spheres as well,” says Roy.

Over the years he has shaped, guided and nurtured talents through various triumphant initiatives, some of which are the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META), the Ishara International Puppet Theatre Festival (which brings groups from UK, Holland, Spain, Ireland, USA, Japan, Taiwan, Sweden and India onto a common platform), the Kahaani festival of storytelling, the Sacred Pushkar festival of music, yoga and meditation and the Friends of Music concerts.

He has also taken India to foreign shores through successful festivals such as India by the Nile — India’s largest cultural festival in Egypt, Eye on India — that showcases a blend of Indian classical and world music along with an interesting mix of Indian literature, film, fashion, cuisine and dance, and held in Boston, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, Shared History — a month-long extravaganza in South Africa showcasing the richness of India, and India by the Bay — a mix of programmes from the field of music, dance, literature and film in Hong Kong. In celebration of the UK-India Year of Culture this year, Roy’s is the only production company from India that is bringing together a commendable exhibit along with the Indian High Commission, the Ministry of Culture and the Indian Council of Cultural Relations that started from May and will continue till November 2017. The celebrations will include the London chapter of the JLF held at the British Library, a fest called India@Edinburgh, the Independence Gala at Southbank Centre, a festival of dance and theatre and the UK premiere of the Freedom Symphony by Dr L. Subramaniam and the London Symphony Orchestra. “I rush off to London tomorrow for this as many of the commemorations are our events,” says Roy.

The space reflects his yen for the arts: white walls adorned with black and white photographs, colourful paintings and artworks created to represent all the festivals that Teamwork organises. Roy’s cabin, a spacious room where thoughts and ideas abound, mirrors the man’s love for the indigenous crafts of India.

We notice that the staff is a young buzzing lot. “The youth is not just a repository of fresh ideas, they are also veering towards the classical arts. They identify with our rich roots and recognise its strength in taking India places. Look at my colleagues here. You will find superb singers, dancers, painters and artists. And most of the art works that have been put up here have been done by them. This is the kind of energy that you will find at most of our festivals,” quips Roy.

While the journey has been fulfilling, the path wasn’t devoid of roadblocks. “Every success story has its page of challenges. Back in those days India wasn’t viewed to be as fashionable as it is today. In 1999, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I had experts commenting that Indian classical dance was all about stamping the feet in seven different ways! The then president of Simon Fraser University, Canada had told me that for him Indian classical dance was synonymous with bhangra. I was aghast hearing these misnomers. But it only revealed the lack of awareness the world had about our artistic and intellectual diversity and a thorough enlightening was required. The need to alter the mindset propelled us to unravel the true wealth of India’s aesthetics to not just the natives but also to foreigners,” elaborates Roy.

Roy’s formative years in Delhi, Mumbai and London prepared him for a career in the arts, he feels. His love for theatre was imbibed during his stint at Barry John’s Theatre Action Group. “There is this immense cauldron of talent that is growing with every passing day. Art in India is alive because youngsters have an inherent knack for it. Similarly, there’s this aptitude for the crafts, theatre and photography. Festivals such as the international theatre initiative Going Solo (many of the productions are staged at the Fringe festival) and META bear testimony to the smorgasbord of artists who are burgeoning. And I feel, every city should host a festival to tap that talent. There need to be many more forums like the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY) at the school level to help foster the interests. India is actually going through an age of renaissance and we must contribute,” Roy says with a confident smile.

There is also an economic explanation to this expanding idiom of classical arts, as deconstructed by Roy. “Not only do these fests offer a true picture of India to the world and make our art accessible to many, they also lead to business opportunities. As India’s cultural position grows, there also arises an interest in economic exchanges. The arts create tangible wealth. About five years ago, with the JLF, we did a survey with shopkeepers, hotels and so on, and found that the event’s contribution to the city’s economy was in the range of 20 crore rupees. Numerous Indians derive an income from the creative pursuits. Hence, this can become a self-sustaining phenomenon,” he says, adding, “We want to make arts a paying proposition and build Brand India through it.”

So, what is keeping him excited? “We are planning a new jazz festival. There will be a children’s festival and a festival at Kishwar and Mallika Ahluwalia’s Partition Museum in Amritsar. The Indian classical arts are being admired everywhere so it’s time to take them places,” says Roy.

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