By Younten Dorji, Kuenselonline, 8 March, 2007
The Bhutanese film and audio-visual industry, representing the informal sector of the performing arts in the country, has rapidly evolved in recent years.Every year young but untrained artists join the industry to make a mark and a living. Local productions dominate the screenings in the country’s movie theatres and modern Bhutanese musical scores can be heard across the country.
Some actors and singers have become household names and even boast a fan base and people with funds are finding out that investing in local productions can be lucrative.
But according to Tshering Gyeltshen of TG Media & Infotainment the future of the performing arts in Bhutan looks set to languish in mediocrity. This was because of the absence of an enabling environment where artists received due recognition and institutional, organizational and financial support.
In a discussion paper, which he presented at the WIPO Sub regional Roundtable in Paro last week, Tshering Gyeltshen gave several reasons for the ‘rather gloomy’ future of the performing arts in Bhutan.
According to him traditionally in Bhutan the fine or visual arts was always accorded a higher place of pride than a folk singer or a mask dancer. Given the practical scheme of things whether somebody could sing or dance did not matter as much as whether one could build a strong durable house or produce a fine sculpture.
Performing arts in Bhutan, with the exception of mask dances, therefore evolved not as an artistic pursuit but more as a peripheral cultural expression. Such a cultural inclination and bias exists to this day according to Tshering Gyeltshen.
The Royal Academy of Performing Arts established decades ago had not contributed much to the growth and development of the performing arts in the country and RAPA were today largely relegated to entertaining guests during official functions.
In the informal sector the growing number of artists in the burgeoning audio-visual industry lacked guidance and any form of support from any quarters.
While the need for performing arts and artists seemed to be absent in the national scheme of things artists themselves were ignorant about their own roles, responsibilities and significance in society.
Local artists also faced tremendous competition from work by foreign artists in film, music, dance and drama, which were more professional, technically superior and better packaged.
“The common attitude appears to be: Well, who needs local performing artists when we have better choices?” according to Tshering Gyeltshen.
Local artists also had no idea of how to address rampant piracy from across the border and copyright violation within the country.
The discussion paper recommended state recognition and support to Bhutanese artists to inspire create and nurture the art and the artist as the sector was still in a formative stage instead of lambasting them as copycats. The paper states that such a situation prevails because artists do not have opportunities for professional growth.
It also called for a proper, modern, well-conceived, and well-implemented syllabus and curriculum for RAPA so that it can conduct itself as an academy in the truest sense of the word. It also recommended of a collective management society to protect and promote the interest of artists in Bhutan.
The secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Dasho Karma Dorji, said that the government was doing its best within its limited resources.
He said that several outstanding Bhutanese artists were honored with national awards in recognition of their contribution to the arts. He pointed out that education in Bhutan was still free giving the new breed of artists in the audio visual industry at least a basic foundation to start off on.
“Artists must themselves endeavor for their creation,” said Dasho Karma Dorji during the roundtable. “Creation of an art comes with time, hard work and individual innovation.” The participants felt that the creation of a Collective Management Society in Bhutan was quite complex because local users preferred the foreign product.
The creation of such a society would dictate all users to pay royalty which would mean that Bhutanese would be required to pay more royalty to foreign artist, which many would not want to do given the low awareness on intellectual property.
What was even more complicated was that many Bhutanese productions were take offs of Hollywood and Bollywood films. Copying ideas and scripts, the participants felt, were a violation of intellectual property rights.
The regional director Ang Kwee Tiang, CISAC, told Kuensel that it would be advisable for Bhutan to first set a CMO that functions only within the country for some years. In course of time, the concept of intellectual property right amongst the public would develop automatically and the country would then be fit to go global.