Gurdas Maan and Basker Ratnam


What makes the Gurdas Maan show on 27 September at Sydney’s Olympic Park unique, asks Sushil Suresh.

What do Gurdas Maan and Basker Ratnam have in common? They both love music and entertainment, and they both speak Tamil. However, it wasn’t any common ground that got Basker thinking about bringing Maan to Sydney for the September 2014 show. Basker says that a south Indian promoter for the Punjabi legend Gurdas Maan’s show will raise eyebrows among many Maan fans and others in the Indian community.
There isn’t anything unusual about this in the entertainment business, except that the trend within the Indian event business in Sydney has so far been for individuals within a culture or region to bring artistes from within their own particular culture or region of India for fans from a particular region or language. This seems like commonsense to many in Sydney’s Indian community, partly because until recently Indian culture was seen as an exotic minority affair in Australia. Nostalgia for the homeland gave Indian shows in Australia a nationalistic, regionalistic and parochial flavour. Yesudas was seen as a Malayali icon, Gurdas Maan a Punjabi legend and so on.
Given the dynamics of multiculturalism, community relations and electoral politics in Australia, the different Indian communities have been busy promoting their own exclusive identities and markets to capitalise on the sudden spurt in their “own” numbers. So the growth in the “Indian community” has also given rise to a resurgence of regional identities and loyalties in Australia. Often this is held to be a “natural” outcome of the regional loyalties and identities in India.
Going by this logic, stars, music and art forms are often perceived and promoted as the preserve or products of regional language groups. Common wisdom too would have us believe that popular art forms can easily be traced back to the folk arts of particular language communities in India. Fans also usually consider themselves primarily as people of a culture, community or region and their stars as compatriots. Perhaps all these unquestioned ingrained matters of faith make it look a bit out of the ordinary for a south Indian to do a Punjabi show. Because, according to this logic, Punjabi folk culture is a unique growth on the “soil” of Punjab.
In Indian circles in Sydney, we are constantly reminded that the south Indian and the Punjabi are two distinct peoples, two separate races and cultures, living in one nation. These ideas and beliefs of cultural authenticity and ethnic separateness are tied to the political boundaries and realities of India and Australia. This is to say that the reorganisation of the states of India along linguistic lines eroded the living realities of culture and community in India in an attempt to create the linguistic states and peoples of contemporary India. If today we easily assume that there has always been a Punjabi and a Tamil and Gujaratis and Biharis, we blindly believe the myths about our modern states. Culture or language has never been Punjabi or Hindi or Tamil. These a4re all so many labels attached to changing conventions of communication and community.
One needn’t go into the details of India’s political history. India’s entertainment industry has never been confined to political or cultural borders. The music, cinema and entertainment industry has often seen Punjabi actors or singers, for example, starring in south Indian movies, and south Indians making it big in Bollywood. Many Indian music legends are also known for their recordings in different languages. Simply put, language, culture, community etc may be crucial in the making of an art form or artiste but in important ways these have never been barriers to a musician or artiste. In India, as everywhere else in the world, music, culture and community have always traversed borders not because music has no borders or language but simply because culture and language are fluid and constantly adapting human conventions that cannot be preserved or contained within any imagined borders.
The dramatic growth in recent years of the Indian community, or rather the Indian communities, in Australia is now also creating a market for more Indian shows here. The entertainment/event business is an audience driven business. It is a business as much as it is anything else. Gurdas Maan’s audiences in Punjab and the rest of the world are audiences looking for shows that are contemporary and Punjabi. Just like Maan’s art is a blend of various South Asian influences, so his audiences too are looking for a performer who can bring the new and the traditional and the “East” and the “West” together in creating a contemporary event. While performers and event managers promote an event within a community or audience the sheer necessity of making a profit may impel them all to adapt their art and shows to appeal to wider markets.
What becomes important here is an event, a show, a performance and an audience, and a business that can bring all of this together in the best possible way. It doesn’t matter if the event manager is Tamil or Telugu, or if a Punjabi organises a Rajnikanth night. What makes the Gurdas Maan show in September important is that it is an event that may impress upon the event managers, audiences and the Indian media in Sydney that a show is a show first of all, it is an opportunity to appeal to wider sections of the Indian diaspora.
Basker Ratnam has received overwhelming support from Indian businesses and the Punjabi community for his Gurdas Maan show. The big names in the Indian community like Value World Travel, Maharaja’s Haveli, Billu’s Eatery and many more are supporting this event in various ways. Basker says that Gurdas Maan himself is expecting this show to be outstanding.
This is Basker’s second show this year. The S P Balasubrahmaniam show earlier this year was the first one he organised. Basker himself decided to change careers recently and try event management and aid work in South Asia. “The 2012 Yesudas concert at the Opera House was a turning point for my husband,” says his wife Latha. “He has always been a music lover but he was never interested in going to concerts or events. Basker’s main hobby was badminton,” she says.
In 2004, Basker was on holiday in Velangani in Tamil Nadu when he witnessed the devastation caused by the Tsunami. From that time he has been organising aid for those who lost their homes and livelihood in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Basker’s not-for-profit organisation Crestwood IndAus Care has also been the sponsor of the Ozanam centre in Kolkata for disabled children. Crestwood’s aid work with the Tsunami affected and the children in Ozanam has been ongoing for the last decade, and Basker and Lata with their team of volunteers have raised funds and food from Australia.
Crestwood Indaus Care’s events are primarily fundraisers for Basker’s charity work in India.

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