By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
These days ‘Sound and Light’ shows have become a very popular means of showcasing history. This is not so just in our country but all over the world too. The first such show ‘Son et Lumiere’ (French for Sound and Light) was established at the Chateau de Chambord in France in the year 1952. The invention of this concept is credited to Paul Robert-Houdin who was the then curator of that monument. The second such show was established in the year 1962 at the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
A sound and light show is a great way of showcasing history and it is perhaps the best way of igniting the imagination of our kids. These days such shows are rapidly growing in number and are taking place regularly at a number of monuments, Forts and Palaces across the country. Our first such show was established at the Red Fort in Delhi in the year 1965. And, the first time I saw it was in the year 1976 when I went to Delhi as a first year MBBS student to represent my college at a debate at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. I was simply thrilled by it then as it was a unique and enchanting experience for me. I shot off a long letter to my parents early the next morning, describing to them at great length what I had experienced. But when I sat through it a full forty years later, having seen many shows across the length and breadth of the country by then, I came back feeling that it was simply not up to the mark!
Although it is said to have undergone many upgradations, to me it seems as if it has remained frozen in time. In fact, the sound track seems to have deteriorated and become very gritty while the lighting effects seem surprisingly archaic by today’s standards considering the rapid march of technology. I am told that the best Sound and Light show now in our country is the one that is held at the Purana Quila at Delhi which was established in the year 2011, but I have not seen it yet. I consider the Hindi version of the show held at the base of the Amber Fort in Jaipur to be the best of all the Sound and Light shows that I have seen. I place the one that is held at the Residency at Lucknow in the second place.
While the hallmark of any sound and light show should be a gentle unfolding of the narrative, most sound and light shows that I have seen at many locations in our country have been very disappointing because of their harshness. Their producers all seem to be hell bent on ‘hammering’ their often very biased messages into the minds of the viewers ! To me they actually seem to qualify to be rightly called ‘Noise and Fire’ shows with their loud songs and garish lighting.
The ones that are held at the Shanivarawada at Pune and at the Golconda Fort in Hyderabad are the ones that fall into this category. But very sadly, the show that begs to steal the first place here is the one that is held at our own Amba Vilas Palace! You come back so badly shaken and jolted that the relief that comes once it is over is the greatest joy of the event ! Since this show is only in Kannada it is not very surprising that it is not very popular with the tourists who happen to come from outside the State. Despite our love for our language, our history and our heritage can appeal to our guests only if they make sense to them in a language that they can understand. So the first thing that we have to do is to have an English version of it at the earliest. I say this as all our foreign tourists are die-hard history buffs and they are therefore the ones who throng any shows that showcase history.
I have been trying for many months now to see the Sound and Light show that is said to be held at the Srirangapatna Fort. I use the phrase ‘said to be held’ because whenever I went there with my family, armed appropriately with warm clothing and more than three brands of the most potent mosquito repellents, I was politely told by the watchman at the venue that the shows were not being held regularly for want of viewers! When we were told that we could hope to see the show if there were at least ten viewers we even offered to buy ten tickets for the four of us. That was when the man sheepishly told us that the operators had not come on that day, thinking that there would be no viewers! As a consolation we were told that we could hope to see the much elusive show if we came back on a Wednesday when the entry was free to enable the local people to savour it. So we made a few excursions to the place on Wednesdays only to realise that the locals too were not very keen on knowing their own history. They all perhaps feel that whatever versions of it they have heard as little kids while seated on their grandparents cozy laps are more than enough for a lifetime!
So when I read reports in newspapers recently that the ‘Show’ at Srirangapatna was likely to be wound up for want of visitors I could not help wondering what was left there to wind up. It has died a natural death and there is nothing left at the site now except for a few vandalised speakers and lights dangling from the fort walls or jutting out of the grassy knoll which too is fast drying up for want of periodic watering. The place is actually soundlessly merging with the more than two century old ruins of the fort and very soon it will undoubtedly become an integral part of the history of Srirangapatna. The truth that we all have to face while creating our Sound and Light shows is that we have to create them in way that they continue to attract people beyond the first few days after they are created. There are lessons to be learnt here like the lessons we have to learn from our history!
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