Imagine if each pearl bead from a necklace let out music, as you were spellbound by not just the beauty, but the enchanting melody too! When put together in a necklace form, the pearl seems a lot more precious and even more precious is the string that holds it together. A pearl diver free-dives down into the salty water with a basket or bag to collect oysters, popping back to the shore, with a goal to have collected at least one pearl, the fruit of a challenging mission. Rubies and diamonds have sparkle, but none can boast the delicate sheen of the smooth, round pearl.
Watching musician perform across myriad channels that mushroomed during this lockdown, one of the channel that caught my attention and became a part of my system is Utsaah #spreadinghappiness, an online concert series during this lockdown that commenced in the last week of March 2020. Reaching 100 episodes is like one leading the pack in a Marathon race, for many started with enthusiasm, but not sustaining it.
Pearl Diver is the analogy that I found it best to describe the channel, and Durga Jasraj as the Pearl Diver, along with her team. That’s the Curating and Magnifying Music one would refer to. Fascinated to discover the backstage or behind the scenes preparation, before presenting the `pearls’ towards the audience. The Art and Artistes team comprising Neeraj Jailty and Nilakshi Guha Sharma were the other pillars, along with Dev Sharma, Vimla Sippy and Avni Jasraj.
My credential for writing this piece is that I am a just a music enthusiast (I like to call myself a professional listener, as my sadhana of listening to various forms of music is a minimum of 3-4 hours every day) and being a communications professional, prefer the written word over the video.
UTSAAH – A COMPLETE PACKAGE – THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG!
So my first call was to Durga Jasraj, the brain behind the `Pearl Neclace’ (doesn’t the thought of this also spread happiness amongst the ladies) with a set of structured questions on the origin of the idea for Utsaah Originate, Interesting anecdotes during – Tech-check, Instagram and facebook live sessions, Technical challenges faced, bracing up to each of the lockdown phases, Unique experiences that emerged on this format in comparison to a conventional performance format, some Interesting Sidelights and Insights into Audience Growth.My hunch was right, for I had only hit the tip of the iceberg of what I thought of as a simple 1-2-3 concept, needed elaborate planning, meticulousness and some prayers (apart from god — for the technology to not malfunction!)
ORIGIN OF THE CONCEPT
Durga shared that “Utsaah as a name and though was instinctive, as in a lockdown with people at home they would want to unwind beyond the normal and engage in something meaningful. Objective of such a programme would be to spread hope, positivity and cheer in challenging times, and hence #spreadinghappiness.” The objective was to bring in the artists, and enable real time interaction for the audiences, insta-live for chat and FBlive for a performance, so that it would not only be engaging, but allow the audiences to interact too. So the way a typical Utsaah concert of Utsaah works the Insta-live session is more like a chat on various aspects of the artiste. Many a time that itself would be insightful for the audiences to learn”.
BEHIND THE SCENE WORK
One gets to see an announcement of tomorrow’s artiste in today’s live session of Instagram and Facebook, followed by the customary posts on social media and alert on the mobiles. Before the performance, there is a tech-check session, for getting the camera angle, frame, sound check and so on for audiences to enjoy the live session. There would be about 200 odd people at the techcheck itself, giving their inputs on the sound quality, frame and all. Neeaj Jaitly was quick to add, “The positive aspect of Utsaah is it made the organisers and the artistes “Aatmanirbhar” – for right from the sound check, makeup, and almost nil accompaniments, the performance has to go on. Everyone moved out of their comfort zone in picking a skill that they would have relied on someone else to help them with.”
InstaChat is peepy and interesting as one can guage the pulse through the IQ – not Intelligence Quotient, but the Interactivity Quotient. While Durga chats with the artiste of the day, there are reactions on the side of fans and enthusiasts wanting to know more about certain aspects that are shared by the artiste. This session reveals many facets of the artiste and their art and that is very fascinating.
Durga shared, “We were clear from the first day that we would use instagram for a live chat as the format is easy with a split screen, making it interesting for the audiences to join. The two main challenges we faced were that most artistes did not even have an instagram account, and some had never been interviewed on digital. For most artistes social media was like a new channel and there was very short time to adapt and perform. We almost functioned as a guide for many of them”.
After this one hour session, the audiences are ushered to log on to facebook for the live session. Here Durga greets and briefs audiences on the artistes and sums up the insta-chat. The three to five minute chat is the time audiences settle in like they do in a normal live concert. Lo-behold, the artiste for the evening is ready to regale the audiences with their art. It has not just been music alone, for variety in that area has been wide enough to include classical, semi-classical and light classical forms. Further Utsaah has showcased most forms of Art and Classical Music, be it Carnatic, Hindustani, folk, regional. Also an interesting feature has been that artists of all stature, be it Established, Senior, Junior, upcoming have been featured.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH & EXPRESSION – AUDIENCE REACTIONS
As the performance unfolds, as one of the viewer you can witness the thumbs up, the best wishes messages, the congratulatory messages, adulation messages and thank you messages erupt. One can witness the `wah wah’, bahut khoob, and the farmaish of the audiences. If this had been a live conventional concert, one would have to do shh…. so many times to the audiences, but that is the beauty of the online medium where watching the concert you get to know the moods of the audiences watching the show. In the audiences, there are some usual loyalists that have virtually become the Utsaah Parivar. Durga is quick in adding that the public reaction has been one of the main attractions of the show
PRESENTATION – THE BIG DIFFERENTIATOR
For many the lockdown has been as simple as sit-fit into the camera-and get into action. So a singer sings, an instrumentalist plays, a dancer dances and people watch. Devotional songs, Bhajans, Vocal, Instrumentals with some of them being lecture demonstrations or tutorials have been the flavor. Very few have sustained themselves, for the lockdown seems to be more than a marathon. The presenter would need to have more than rabbits up their sleeve like a magician.
There was an unwritten rule of dress code for Utsaah as Durga personally spent time with the artistes in advising them to be in attire that they would wear for an actual concert. It came as a blessing in disguise as most artists got the opportunity to enter the near formal atmosphere. Dancer expressed desire in not wearing ghungroo, but were asked to treat this as a normal concert. The overall message that the audience should get is that the artist is here to perform. So more attention was paid to the backdrop, the camera angle and artist position for the audiences to have a near live experience.
Would sound technical to people, but the first measure of success of any concert is a packed auditorium, and then the performance. Sometimes the performance may overshadow the lack of attendance and the audience would relish the memorable performance for years together. A typical indoor mini auditorium would fit in about 300-500 people, a slightly larger one about 800, and a larger one about 1200, and the largest about 3000 people. Moving outdoors, one may look at 10,000 as a crowd, for a rock concert or an entertainment show — a sure yes, but not for classical programme.
Going by the multiple of 3000 (largest indoor auditorium in Asia), normal concerts have had 10 times (30,000) the capacity , and for some star performances the audience reach has been 20 times an outdoor venue (200,000) and all of this without any additional promotion. It is creditable to have put Indian classical music on par with mainstream in terms of numbers.
SECRET OF SUCCESS
Being from a family of musicians, I take immense pride in not only understanding music, but also knowing the other person’s music. Frankly there is no formula for success, for we have broken the rules of conventional social media where one though covers and crisp performances will work. This is a medium for youngsters, and so on. We have demonstrated that for an hour we have a sizable amount of loyal audiences who stay through the performance. Look at the senior artistes we have showcased and their ease of adapting to the medium. The audiences reactions are a great testimony to that.
PRAYER FOR A CORONA FREE WORLD
In these unprecedented times we have all maintained social distance and taking adequate precaution to fight Covid-19. It is my sincere prayer that the Corona Menace should end, but not Utsaah! The Artists are happy, for they have felt the warmth of the audiences and the audiences have been happy for the near amphitheater experience where everyone is in the first row and enjoying the performance. Durga shared that they have a list of over 3000 artistes who have written to them expressing their desire to perform and be part of Utsaah.
If all of them get a chance to perform, that will be ten years of Utsaah!#spreading happiness. Jai Ho!