Did you like the Republic Day parade? If you watched the Red Road parade, you might ask why photographs of Mamata Banerjee, some of them more than 10ft tall, decked out most of the floats. If you watched the Delhi parade, you might have found most of the floats monotonous. Yet each year the floats are selected, designed, crafted and presented with ritualistic fervour, though the artists involved are often left dissatisfied.
Many do not like the restrictions imposed by the government. The themes chosen by the state and the central government for the 19 floats at this year’s Delhi parade, for instance, did not go down well with everyone.
Veer Munshi, who created the Kashmir tableau on the Changpa tribe manufacturing pashmina, feels given the freedom, he would have selected a theme “more relevant to Kashmiris” and made it into a “really public art form”.
There are other restrictive norms: the tableaux are inevitably borne on a tractor and trailer, provided free of cost by the ministry of defence. A gap of 6-7ft has to be maintained between the two. The number of performers on the float cannot exceed 10 and its height cannot be more than 16ft. For tableaux on cultural and historical themes, the colours, designs, costumes and materials used need to be authentic.
The state information and culture department selects the themes and invites designs from agencies. An expert committee of artists constituted by the defence ministry meets representatives of the agencies between June and August before approving the final design and 3D models.
Reputable professional artists are rarely consulted, probably because they expect higher remuneration and are reluctant to take directives from the government. The additional responsibility of fabrication is also not something most artists want.
Sculptor Mukul Pawar, a part of the defence ministry’s expert committee, says he has “no time” to make tableaux and is “happy making sculptures” on his own.
Ad houses and design companies usually make the cut for building the tableaux because they have the infrastructure and experience. A Calcutta firm designed and fabricated as many as six floats in the Delhi parade this year.
“The defence ministry hosts the show and provides administrative support. It is not involved in the suggestion of themes, selection of fabricators or financing of the tableaux. State governments do all that. The expert committee makes the final selection,” says A.K. Ghosh, the defence ministry’s officer on special duty at the Rashtriya Rangshalla camp, where the tableaux are readied.
There is no fixed budget for the floats — the states spend as much as they can afford to.
Saumya Sen, a Delhi-based designer, is happy that he was given the freedom to create an offbeat tableau at this year’s parade but he too feels the format is becoming “mundane and monotonous” and stresses the need for a revamp.
“Instead of hiring companies, the government should ask for the suggestions of senior artists, designers and creative people and float tenders only for the fabrication,” says Sen.