Pop art of taking low blows at high arts

Most things of high culture are consumed by most people in their easily-chewable, lowest common denominator formats. Nothing wrong with that. After all, to appreciate the nuances of Test cricket, or subtleties of classical music, or a film felicitated at Cannes, needs a certain aesthetic bent of mind that most people don’t care to cultivate. Instead, T20 cricket, ‘dhikchak’ music, and over-the-top blockbusters are hoi polloi’s Big Macs. But when the high arts become fashionable targets of derision for being, well, high, you know the squares come full circle.

Take the art of mujra – ‘payment of respect’ in Urdu – a dance and song/music format that emerged in Mughal India, around the same time ballet emerged in Renaissance Europe. For those aware of matters a bit more than via Sanjay Leela Bhansali movies and see mujra being more than a version of ‘dance bars‘, it means the performative space from which great art forms like kathak and ghazals were honed. As one savant put it, mujra is the ‘dance of suggestion, a sophisticated cabaret‘. Which is what popular depictions in films like Mughal-e-Azam, Pakeezah – where the objet petit a (unattainable object of desire) is the dancer’s feet – Jalsaghar and Umrao Jaan celebrate. To conflate it with something coarse is missing the point. Or, perhaps, taking up a fine point only to diss it.


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