THE DIPLOMATIC heat and consternation around Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s arrest has sidestepped very basic dilemmas artistes face. This is a good opportunity to address them. What happened to Rahat must be really frightening. Most musicians in India and Pakistan do not have professional managers guarding their interests and advising them on professional issues. Even superstars have, at best, people who work like secretaries, answering phone calls and negotiating a few deals. In India and Pakistan, there is no one to guard their reputation or ensure they are given the chance to concentrate on their work. Nevertheless, ignorance about rules cannot be an excuse. The disembarkation card we get when we fly clarifies what we can carry, what we cannot and what we must declare.
Rahat’s plight seems even more piquant at a time when Bryan Adams, who has nothing to do with India and Pakistan, finds his Delhi concert cancelled. There are 10,000 people ready to pay for tickets costing an arm and a leg. Instead of thwarting international artistes, the law should enable us to enjoy their performances. Why should police permission stand in the way?
As for Pakistani artistes, they are loved in India and will always be welcome. The same is true for Indian artistes in Pakistan. But we must take due care to ensure no law is broken on either side. Rahat is a high-profile artiste who has been coming to India for years now — for some of the biggest television shows, for some high-profile concerts. As a person who now organises a music festival, I’m wondering to myself: what on earth are the rules? Shouldn’t they be mentioned clearly on some website in the same manner as visa rules? I have been trying to browse and see if in a completely bona fide operation, what is it I as an organiser must be prepared for? Can I proceed without using ‘sources’ in government departments? If I want to go by the law, what is the law of the land? If I invite a Pakistani artiste, what currency can I pay him in? Does he require a work visa? How long will it take to get one? What are the other issues I should be aware of?
A lot, obviously, for as an event manager in Mumbai told me, you need 117 permissions for a concert to be organised at, say, the Gateway of India. Why are we making it so difficult to host events properly and with due permission? Why do we need to adopt quasi-legal slimy measures, like hiring somebody who will then pay off somebody?
When I go to the US, it is a hell of a deal getting a performer’s visa. I go on a P3 visa, a non-immigrant visa that allows foreign nationals to enter the US to “perform, teach or coach as artistes or entertainers, individually or as part of a group, under a programme that is culturally unique”. Further, you must be going to the US to participate in a cultural event or events that will further the understanding or development of your art form. Getting this visa takes a lot of doing — you need an immigration lawyer. Even for the small fee I receive from universities to do lecture- demonstrations on Indian music, a certain amount is withheld as tax. When I file my returns, I have to prove either that it is withheld there or that I’m paying that tax in India. The US is extremely strict but they have proper procedures in place.
So if we as a nation would like to invite artistes from around the world, then policies, rules and laws concerning these events need to be worked out and publicised. No more mysteries, please.