Nikhil Sardana: Tell us about the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concerts in India. How was Seher involved towards organising these in 2014?
Sanjeev Bhargava: The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra wanted the local production to be done by an organisation in India which involved handling the logistics, venue hire, marketing and branding. They were bringing the musicians and had arranged for their air tickets. Putting together all their production was left to Seher in New Delhi. What was great was that they had started working three years in advance. They wanted the best team in India that could present it well. We applied for this project and got the nod from Gavin Reid, who was then the director of the BBC SSO.
NS: How successful were the concerts? Tell us about their outreach programs.
SB: The key element that Gavin Reid had in mind was outreach. Where he and I really had synergy was that we wanted to expose a large number of people towards the awareness and appreciation about Western classical music. We approached the local schools and had two concerts for them, keeping in mind their selection, age groups and a completely different program in contrast with what we showed to the public. For the first time we managed to get the Government schools on board and exposed them to this genre of music. Nearly 4000 kids were enjoyed works by Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler and Schubert. That was a real victory. Not a single seat was left vacant in Siri Fort Auditorium.
NS: What is Seher? Why did you set up this organisation and where is it headed today?
SB: Seher is a for-profit cultural organisation. I do not believe that culture belongs to people who use Jholas (satchel). I think culture needs to be packaged, marketed and presented well. That is the way forward towards spreading the appreciation of classical music to the younger generations. Until we are not able to do so in large quantities, we are in trouble. Our mandate is to make more and more people aware of the visual and performing arts.
Seher covers the performing and visual arts, classical dance, classical music (Indian and Western), cinema and theatre. It was set up as a company to present the artists in an innovative way and to use iconic venues such as parks, monuments and heritage sights in order to uplift their overall appeal. In 2001 when I restarted organising performances at the Purana Quila, we did a month long survey on the footfalls. There were 800 attending a day out of which only 100 were tourists. The balance were coming for the work that we were presenting.
Every time we do a dance festival now at this venue, we have a total of 10,000 people coming to enjoy the experience and atmosphere. In a way we are not only promoting culture but also tourism.
NS: Where does the word Seher come from?
SB: Seher was a word given by my spiritual guru Pandit Kumar Gandharva. Seher means first rays of the morning sun. These bring hope into the lives of people signifying new beginnings. In that way you bring hope in the lives and minds of young artists who are lesser known but highly talented. You will notice this in all of our programs where we will have a combination of well known names and highly versatile young artistes. Equal opportunity for all is what we stand for.
NS: How many concerts and festival does Seher organise in a year?
SB: As an organisation, we have never worked on quantity. We have always stood for quality. It was great to curate a purely classical dance program in 2010 and 2015 for then President Barack Obama’s visit. We were chosen to present 25 mins of what Indian culture has to offer for the visiting delegation.
We do about 6-8 large festivals in a year along with smaller and experiential programs for upto 200 people. I genuinely feel that India’s USP is our culture, heritage and its tradition in music and dance.
NS: How are you reaching out to younger audiences in India towards the classical traditions?
SB: Through our innovative style and professionalism in presentation and doing events like the ones in Hyde Park, London or Central Park, New York. We start on time, the sound is excellent, the set design is serene and our promotions are done effectively. More young people are getting involved and our job is to do these programs regularly. Our Bhakti festival in Nehru Park would have 7000 people out of which 50% are young audiences.
NS: What challenges do you face in the performing arts sector in India today? Is there enough sponsorship? Are governments doing enough and why are corporations not doing their bit?
SB: You’ve hit the nail on the head with this question. One of the biggest tumbling blocks are corporate funding. The Government can only do that much for which we are very thankful for. Now is the time for corporates and individuals who have established themselves in their respective fields to come out and support Indian culture.
What amazes me is that a country like India does not have a dedicated FM channel for classical music. Whereas if you go to America, there are various channels for different genres of music. Why isn’t somebody starting a channel across cities in India. If you sit in your car and enjoy a Mahler Symphony or a Beethoven piano sonata while you are stuck in traffic, it will make a difference to everyone’s lives.
I urge the corporations to come forward and am glad that CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) now includes culture and heritage. It is now the job of business magazines and portals to do something about it. The overall system needs to be sensitised and they must be inspired to do things.
NS: When is the next Seher festival? How does one stay updated about your projects?
SB: One may visit our website for updates – www.seher.in
One of our big festivals is the Udaipur World Music Festival on the 10th, 11th and 12th of February 2017. Last year itself in its we had 25,000 people.