Vikram Sampath's name has been bandied around liberally in the media, with both allegations and praise coming his way. We meet at his office at the Symbiosis School of Media and Communication, where Vikram sits in his new, corporatised avatar, looking vastly different from the man in baggy kurtas we're so used to seeing! "My experience with BLF can be a case study," he smiled, as he talked about his new role as the Director of SSMC. "It's a study in crisis management and PR as well."
The controversy surrounding the Bangalore Literature Festival, which had writers boycott the event because of Vikram's refusal to support the Awards Wapsi, has left him visibly worse for wear. “The biggest lesson in all this, one that I'm still grappling with, is what literary conclaves have become. They should be a place where different minds meet, not eco chambers where we all agree with each other. India is full of different viewpoints — we are an argumentative nation, but refusing to engage with someone because you don't agree with them goes against the principles of democracy.”
To reduce Vikram to a single controversy is doing him an injustice. His deep love for music and history have him involved in a number of projects that will help change the way India sees the arts. And he has plenty to be proud of — he set off to Mumbai less than a week after the stormy Bangalore Lit Fest, for the premier of Lilette Dubey and Mahesh Bhatt's Gauhar, which is based on his book - My Name is Gauhar Jaan. The play, which Vikram describes as a "magnum opus production", was done to celebrate 25 years of Dubey's company, Primetime. "Mahesh has been a good friend for a long time and there has been talk from a lot of filmmakers about turning the book into a film as well," he said. Gauhar will now hit the road, travelling to Lucknow before it comes to Bengaluru in March 2016. "They're also looking at touring abroad, in London and maybe Broadway," he said.
For over two years now, Vikram has been involved in creating archives of Indian music, which cover a gamut of genres. That apart, his work with the International Society for Music Education, which is part of UNESCO, came up with a multi-pronged approach that looks at music's role in the cognitive development of children. "We're setting up a loose coalition, called the Indian Alliance for Music." This will act as a bridge between UNESCO and various governments.
As part of the Knowledge Commission, Vikram is in the process of seting up a Task Force for arts management, which is also being led by sculptor Balan Nambiar. This involves skilled persons at every level - lighting, sound, writing for the arts - and refurbishing the administration of academies and cultural institutions in the state. A curriculum is in the pipeline, but this requires staunch governmental support.
Our conversation at SSMC is interrupted a few times for various administrative duties need attending to. "I have a lot on my plate," he agrees. "There's been a lot of good as well, along with the bad and I've learned to develop a thick skin and focus on the positives. If the BLF situation were to repeat itself, though, I'd do the same thing.
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