The Politics Of Performance and Censorship in Tagore’s Music (Rabindrasangeet)
Scholarly critique of Rabindrasangeet has changed over time and has taken varied routes. From the mid-20th century’s projections of these songs in the educated middle class bhadralok register were typically seen as the music of the enlightened and the intellectual and were applauded as the finest musical creations Bengal has witnessed. However, works by celebrated and experienced performers-trainers like Subinoy Roy’s Rabindrasangeet Sadhona (1962), Santidev Ghosh’s Rabindrasangeet Bichitra (1972), Sanjida Khatun’s Rabindrasangeeter Bhabsampad (1982), Suchitra Mitra’s Rabindrasangeet Jiggasa (1983) surprisingly did not address the most relevant topics that as a reader/audience one expects from a Rabindrasangeet performer-trainer; Which particular song does she/he like to perform more than another and why? What is the difference between the styles of singing-teaching in the past and in the present? What is audience reception like in different spaces? What is the experience of a particular performance space as opposed to another, for example, the open air stage Gaurprangana in the idyllic Santiniketan, where Visva Bharati is situated, versus the closed-auditorium Rabindra Sadan in Kolkata? What is the future of Rabindrasangeet and why is there a massive cultural anxiety attached to it? With the exception of Debabrata Biswas, the shining star of Rabindrasangeet in the 50s, 60s and 70s, whose voice was stifled by VMB leading him to write a touching tell-all book on VMB’s unreasonable censorship, Bratyajaner Ruddhasangeet (The Outcast’s Suppressed Music 1978), hardly any performer writes about VMB’s stringent copyright baton wielding.
Recently, there has been a renewed interest in the performances of South Asia that has endeavoured to celebrate the grass-root cultures of the South Asian people by attempting to connect and re-connect ideas, experiences and lives within the conflict-ridden geography, principally through a romantic/scriptural/ethnographic prism. Surprisingly, however, in this scholarship, Rabindrasangeet has not been looked into as extensively as it should have been, maybe because of its essentially urban bhadralok nature. Sticking predominantly to biographical, impressionist, structuralist, and aestheticist discourse, rooted in the ubiquitous idol-worship that Tagore inspires in Bengalis, the genre has suffered from a lack critically potent and historically informed scholarship.
My research would essentially aim at breaking away from this strand of idol-worshipping homily which dominate the existing scholarship, and instead forestage the censorship by VMB that plagued Rabindrasangeet performance. I would also like to explore the silence on this front by other accomplished and established singers, especially from Santiniketan and Kolkata and the repercussion of this silence. By exploring the institutionalization of Rabindrasangeet as a site of power, I would probe how this becomes the locus of Rabindra culture. It will look into the experiences of performers, the changes in performance, musical-arrangements and reception post-copyright and examine what constitutes its popularity in contemporary Bengal- both West Bengal and Bangladesh.