Non-Performing Arts Festival?

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My first memory of PAF is from my second year – sitting in the audience, watching the OAT lit in blood red, utter silence resounding through the crowd. Just then, in the central quadrangle, a door opens with an eerie crackle, disclosing a dingy room that was hidden in plain sight all this while. A terrorist is going to be violently interrogated. No words were spoken, no music was played, just a perfect interplay of light and sound. The PAF’s name was Maun. Ever since then, I have had countless ASMR moments while watching PAFs – the ending monologue of Prime Minister, the first choreographed performance of Delhi Beats, the chess sequence in Bisaat. These otherwise rare, hair-raising moments which I used to experience sitting in the audience were what drove me to watch and participate in PAFs.

To figure out what makes PAF so important to IITB’s culture, one needs to answer why any cultural event exists in the institute. After all, PAF is only an amalgamation of what goes on all year round in insti. PAF is unique because it brings all the performing arts together. A good PAF performance will not hold together if each ‘form’ doesn’t try to outcompete the other or does not gel in with the overall tone and theme of the story. This involvement of multiple art forms, invariably, brings a diverse set of people together who work 5-7 hours a day for about a month – which, I believe, is another argument in favor of PAF – the sheer teamwork that goes behind in making one. I have personally known more people through PAFs than through any other activity in the institute.

While it is the scale that makes PAF stand out from the hoi polloi of insti events, it is the scale that has started to make it increasingly unpopular in the institute. The current first and second year students may not be aware of the fact that there used to be four PAFs every year. Last season was the first in many years when the number was reduced to three due to budgetary constraints. This year the trend continued in spite of the institute having sufficient budget. From what has been going around, there were even talks of reducing the number to two!

The reasons for the decreasing popularity are not entirely misplaced. Probably the biggest is the low returns to efforts ratio. Saying purely from my personal experience, the efforts required to put together a PAF are huge. The returns, however, are not very tangible (if one is looking for tangible benefits, that is). Sure, it improved my writing like no other event in insti did (or someone’s music composition skills or dramatic acting range), gave me the opportunity to manage a team of about 100 which, I am sure, will never happen again in my life. However, the sad truth is that PAF does not translate into a good bullet point on your resume – a principal reason why there is less and less attraction to the event as students in insti become more driven to adorn their resumes. The second reason that comes to mind is the large amount of seemingly non-creative work that goes in making the PAF, which is usually done by freshies. A freshie cutting bamboos usually does not even know what the story of the PAF is and is therefore emotionally nonchalant towards the whole affair and may even grow up to hate the event itself and in turn propagate the sentiment. Another reason which is usually overlooked lies in the dissatisfaction of individual components of a PAF. Noteworthy here is the dancing junta who if you ask after 2 glasses of IB in Sunny would tell you that PAF is really their last priority as far as events are concerned. This disconnectedness of non-dramatics art forms is mainly driven by scriptwriters who treat anything apart from drama as ‘good-to-haves’ and do not use it to move the needle in terms of overall impact.

Some of these challenges have structural solutions. Recently, the cultural council has talked about outsourcing some of the activities of a PAF. I am all for this, given those activities are non-creative and will reduce freshie herding. Basic production activities like making paper rolls, bamboo cutting and scaffolding can be given out to a central contractor. However any creative activity like designing the prod, erection and placement of prod elements, and fine arts should be solely done by participating hostels. The judging criteria should be reorganized in a way that individual components of a PAF are judged not only on the basis of their quality but how they contribute to the overall theme and tone of the performance, and how well they are integrated to the story. This will drive the scriptwriters to use dance and musical performances as organic parts of the PAF.

The point of low contribution to a resume remains. That cannot be addressed by any council or department. Whether going about institute life adding bullets to your resume is a legitimate goal or not is a debate for another day, however speaking from my experience, participating in a PAF has given me memories for a lifetime, if that counts as an argument.