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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 29 | volume V | November-December, 2002



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                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 29November-December, 2002
Gallery Reviews

Cultural Nationalism

and the Cross-Cultural Product


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p. 1
Chidananda Dasgupta

    India's knee-jerk reactions to Peter Brook's Mahabharata film have been plentiful, many of them dismissive. Now that the film has done the rounds of the major cities, perhaps it is time to reflect a bit more on it. The first question that comes to mind in the context of the dismissive criticism is over the very idea of cross-cultural art; is it by nature contemptible or is there any valid possibility to it? Clearly, it is impossible for people of one culture to apprehend another totally in the terms of the first; perforce, an Indian audience will understand a Japanese film and an American audience a Kathakali performance in its own way. That understanding, misunderstanding, if you like, is bound to be absorbed and reflected within the culture of the receiver—even the most well informed. Even within India, one region has serious problems in the cultural product of others. Magnificent Naga dances often provoke laughter among audiences from the plains. Is that essentially wrong, corruptive of both? Should cultures, therefore, be hermetically sealed off except where the outsider can become an insider through a lifelong effort?
    But it can equally well be argued that one lifetime is not enough to get to the heart of another culture; it takes generations to do so. What happens then to the creative energies generated by the inevitable contact between cultures in a shrinking world? The fact is that cross-cultural products are inevitable and cannot await anyone's pleasure, including that of the country from which borrowings are made. Hybridization has been, and remains, an essential part of the flow of cultures. We in India are constantly adapting Western films and plays into our languages, both in the elite and popular theatre and cinema. Indian culture today is the product of admixtures with Persians, Greeks, Shakas, Hunas, Mongols, Caucasians, with the Indus Valley people, the Aryans, and the tribals. What is hybrid in one century often represents the essence of purity in another.
    What is more, the Mahabharata takes us back to a time when the nation-state of today was unknown. Borders shifted with the fortunes of frequent battle; borrowings and commonalities were plentiful. To attack another king's territory was a duty, a part of Kshatradharma. What we tend to see as a unique tradition today, such as the Hindu pantheon, was actually shared with the Greeks and large sections of West Asia. Shiva and Dionysius have






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