Bands, DJs continue to survive three years on from Kerala HC curbing entertainment on college campuses

About three years after an accidental death at Thiruvananthapuram’s College of Engineering during Onam celebrations in 2015, gig organiser Arppan Thejas brought the fun back to the campus with a high-energy performance by Bengaluru-based fusion band Lagori. They were brought down as part of Thejas’ “indie tour”.

It’s not been all smooth sailing for Thejas and other event promoters or college event teams in the last three years – the Kerala High Court came down strictly on entertainment of any kind on college campuses in October 2015, specifically noting that “musical programmes by outside agencies” were no longer permitted. Thejas was just about to bring down parody rock act Live Banned to Vagamon, and ended up filing a stay order to make the show happen. He says, “In a way, it has encouraged me a lot and has pushed me further to do whatever needs to be done. The show must go on, no matter what.”

Lagori and Arppan Thejas in Thiruvananthapuram. Photograph by Sammy Adams

Lagori and Arppan Thejas in Thiruvananthapuram. Photograph by Sammy Adams

As much as Kerala has produced solid rock and fusion bands over the decades – from Motherjane and Avial to Thaikkudam Bridge and more – musicians and promoters from the state feel that prevailing stereotypes around the culture still influence how people perceive it. Alternative act Black Letters’ vocalist and guitarist Sharath Narayan says, “Music and art is still looked at as having anti-social elements. People say Kerala is forward-thinking, but I don’t think we’re any better than other states. There’s a certain hypocrisy in banning something.” Black Letters last performed at St Joseph’s Devagiri in September 2017, alongside Mumbai rock band Daira. Recalling the show, Narayan says “There were college kids from all over the country at the festival. It was an entirely new audience and it was mind blowing to see how much fun they were having. No one was being rowdy or anything.”

Of the shows Thejas has been working on – including his recently-concluded “indie tour” of college shows in April – he says he’s taken an intentional preference for artists from other states. “The reason I'm working with these independent bands from outside Kerala is to introduce raw and different genres to the people [here] and to let them know what they're missing out on.”

Kishan John, manager of Kerala acoustic/indie rock act When Chai Met Toast, says the ban isn’t very strictly enforced and where it is, colleges and promoters do find a way around it. “As I know it, the principal and college management can allow such performances under their own risk. In certain cases, artists are also invited as event judges, speakers, etc and are shown 'on paper' as people who are performing free of cost.” Despite the workarounds, Kishan hopes that college festivals and institutions take the ruling as a sign of tightening up norms to prevent accidents like the one in 2015. He adds, “I would definitely want institutions to ensure basic security measures for all festivals where there will be a crowd. Basic things like safety meeting points, routes for evacuation in the event of a fire are always overlooked.”

Thejas may be scaling up stage production as well to give the crowd the best live performance experience, but he fears there may be a decrease in shows. The Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University has been particularly strict in following the Kerala High Court orders, curbing events in all its affiliated colleges and institutions, and now many more colleges will fall under their gamut. But Thejas, who only recently proudly announced an annual turnover of Rs 18 lakh as a pro events organiser, says he’s looking at the bright side. “There are a lot of other colleges too that don't fall under the KTU (Kalam Technological University) that are engineering colleges, art colleges, IITs, and IIMs. So my aim now is to conduct and organise as many events as possible in such colleges.”


Updated Date: Jun 08, 2018 15:28 PM

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