With 2020 throwing up an array of hardships at people from all walks of life, the arts and entertainment industry has been especially affected, with theatres shutting down, concerts becoming an impossibility, or a chunk of supporting artists finding themselves out of a job, overnight. For the ones who’ve been privileged enough to sit at home with our needs met through this difficult phase, it is strangely these artists who’ve kept us going – we’ve thrived on films, books and music. As things slowly get back to normal, it is both a blessing and a comfort to see our good old forms of entertainment fall back in place – well, not quite. The ‘new’ normal has now trained artists to be equipped with alternate modes of reaching out to their audience. With the quality of virtual events getting better by the day, we have been witness to them adapting over a strikingly short span of time.
The greatest boon of a virtual concert is to be able to tune in from a different part of the world and not feel like we’re missing out on anything because, well, no one else is any better off than we are. I tuned in to Impressions from a different city and enjoyed a series of brilliant performances. Impressions, cultural festival of College of Engineering Pune, was started by the artists for the artists, which grew into a grand flagship event from just a rudimentary idea. With over ten thousand people participating in the festival, either as performers, or connoisseurs or maybe just as lively spectators every year, Impressions proves to be a dynamic platform for the artists. This year, it was its 5th edition which successfully went virtual. It was wonderful to see students perfect an online fest, gifting their college a spell of happy moments amidst a pandemic, the comfort of seeing familiar faces after a long wait. Under the patronage of the prestigious United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization- Indian National Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO, this edition of Impressions celebrated the beauty of artistic reformation with its theme, Rhythms of Renaissance.
Spread over a span of three days in December, the fest offered a host of events, almost at par with any of their previous, on-campus editions. I was invited to watch Nrityangana, an event on Indian classical dance and Stay Tuned, a solo instrumental competition. For a college fest, the quality and standards of the participants was astonishing. The dance competition was ably judged by Kathak dancer Sharvari Jamenis, and Parimal Phadke, who specializes in Bharatnatyam and contemporary dance. It is a rarity nowadays to watch performances of Indian classical dance that are devoid of the Bollywood influence, especially if the form is Kathak, and the performances of Esha Kulkarni and Esha Nanal stood out. While the classical and semi-classical distinction was sometimes blurred, several Bharatnatyam dance performances were well-practiced and mesmerising.
It is a challenge to virtually execute an event of instrumental music performances, but despite several obstacles, Stay Tuned proved to be a success. The judges included a host of experts – eminent sitar player Purbayan Chatterjee, tabla player Pandit Ramdas Palsule, and keyboardist and music producer, Mahroof Sharif. The audience witnessed a range of instrumental performances, from the piano to sitar, violin to harmonica. Here, too, the participants were well-trained, often playing pieces based on Indian ragas, and sometimes on popular tunes from films. Despite the difficulties of online streaming, the performance of Siddharth Garud, who played raga Behag on his sitar, was captivating, and he was rightfully judged the winner. The performance of Yogesh Mothia stood out – not just for his beautiful rendition of raga Hamsadhwani, but also for his unique instrument, a violin designed by his father, moulded to incorporate influences of the sarangi and the ravanhatta.
With participants and judges from overseas setting an international stage, Impressions hosted distinguished guests like mandala artist Saudamini Madra (from the US), graphite sketching artist Chiara Collizzoli (from Italy), and doodle artist Lei Melendres (from Philippines). Offbeat shows like a storytelling session by Yahya Bootwala and Suhani Shah performing the art of mentalism set the event apart.
As much as we look forward to things going back to exactly the same way as they were, the ‘new’ normal is a reality we must accept. Till then, we hope to see more of successful virtual events like Impressions. Kudos to the team, and best wishes to the participants for their future in art!