Soorya Krishnamoorthy, Chairman of the Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, is spearheading efforts to give a helping hand to theatre.
The Kerala State ‘short play’ competition that begins in Thrissur on July 8 under the auspices of the Sangeetha Nataka Akademi (SNA), in a way, signifies a new chapter in the saga of theatre in the State. Ten plays have been selected from 81 scripts that were received by the Akademi. Competitions will be held in five categories this year – short play (30 to 45 minutes), amateur (90 minutes to two hours), professional, ‘pravasi’ and, for the first time this year, international too.
The attempt to revive the drama viewing culture in the State received a boost with the idea of the week-day plays. Soorya Krishnamoorthy, Chairman of the Akademi, says the success of the Prathivara Nataka Mela (week-day plays), an initiative of the Akademi, came as a pleasant surprise for drama buffs in Kerala. Naysayers had for long maintained that ticketed plays would not find many takers, especially in places like Thiruvananthapuram, where the ‘pass culture’ had many wrangling for free passes to watch cultural shows of different kinds. However, beating all expectations, the Mela has had a tremendous support from fans of theatre who have been flocking to see the plays. “The only disappointment is Kottayam where we have not got the kind of crowds we are seeing in other districts. In Ernakulam, Kozhikode, Kasaragod, Kannur and the capital city, most of the plays were staged to full houses,” says Soorya.
The money collected from the sale of tickets is given to the troupe in addition to Rs. One lakh that each troupe gets from the Akademi. Only plays that have qualified in the competitions conducted by the Akademi in different categories will be selected for the performances. This year more than 100 entries have been received for the competition.
The Akademi is trying to give theatre its pride of place on the State’s cultural scene by instituting various measures to encourage theatre persons and widen the space for theatre. By putting in place measures such as insurance for theatre persons and folk artistes, the Akademi hopes to alleviate to some extent the financial difficulties of many of those who have dedicated their lives to their art forms. An amount of Rs. one lakh is given for medical expenses while Rs. two lakh is given to the next of kin of a deceased artiste.
“Many of our theatre greats such as Thoppil Bhasi, Vayalar, G. Devarajan, Thikkodian, K.T. Mohammed and so on were never honoured with any kind of national recognition. On the other hand, so many cricketers and film stars walk away with the Padma awards. Take a look at Kerala. A great artiste like Sambasivan who popularised Kathaprasangam and Shakespearean plays such as ‘Othello’ through his performances was never given his due,” he says.
Krishnamoorthy wonders why the government itself discriminates between theatre and cinema. “Awards for cinema and drama are instituted by the government but there is such a big difference in cash awards given for film actors and directors and those in theatre,” he points out.
He is also critical about media’s “obsession” with glamour in cinema. “Many of our folk artistes are living in penury and yet they continue to practise their art form. I remember how Soorya [a cultural organisation] had given a cash award of Rs. 2 lakh to honour a veteran artiste of Arjuna Nrittam. We had hoped the money would take care of his financial needs. After his demise, his wife told me that all the money had been used to build a gurukulam where students were being taught Arjuna Nrittam. He wanted to ensure that his art lived after him. Such people should be given space and attention in our media instead of highlighting trivial details of stars and their peccadilloes,” he signs off.