Mysore's folk artistes lament the ‘ínsulting’ wages they earn when compared to Bollywood stars

Behind the very luminous facade of Mysore’s glitzy cultural extravaganza is a disparity that is as old as it is stark. Every other artiste you meet will tell you they are forced to grin and bear it because an opportunity to perform at the prestigious Naada Habba (State festival) cannot be missed. But how long do they expect us to come and perform for this pittance, asks Siddappa, a percussion folk artiste from Madikeri.

He says dancers, percussionists and flautists who perform at the Dasara finale have traditionally got a raw deal. “It almost feels like on the festival day, we are being reminded that we are lesser mortals,” says Siddaraju. The daily wage of Rs. 750, hiked from Rs. 500 last year, is an “insult” to the very art and culture that this festival claims to celebrate and promote, artistes say. “They say Dasara is the most well-preserved tradition we have. What they have also managed to preserve is the disregard shown historically to us, mainly because we don’t belong to the privileged castes.”

Another dancer, who has been performing for 14 years in a row, pointed out that while their ancestors may have performed for free, the State cannot expect them to claim anything less than a fair wage for the work they put in. “What bothers me is that big artistes are brought to perform from around the world. We know they are paid in lakhs of rupees some times; can they not spare us a few thousands? This is not private money to be spent without a sense of right and wrong,” the 45-year-old dancer says. Earlier this month, a group of folk musicians and artistes had publicly threatened to boycott the Jamboo Savari, and walk backwards from Banimantap if their wages were not revised.

Other artistes too

Similar disparities exist also in the remuneration given to other artistes who perform at the cultural programmes held across the city for 10 days in the run-up to Dasara. While they get better accommodation and are given travel money, they feel there is clearly some sort of a ‘two-tumbler’ rule in place. While they are okay with ‘A-category’ performers being paid more, they say that the process of fixing pay is arbitrary and it is as if performing here itself is a reward.

Adivappa Kariyawar (63), a Janapada artiste from Haveri, says that the government must actively try to promote lesser-known artistes and art forms that are dying due to lack of exposure. “We are performing at a park here; so yes, naturally, the ones performing on the bigger stages will get better audience. While it is natural to categorise artistes, the larger picture, which is to promote lesser-known arts, must not be forgotten.”

Another Janapada artiste, who did not wish to be named, said that the government has no business spending money to bring Bollywood stars to perform, alluding to the concert by pop music artiste Mika Singh here. “We say that the real arts don’t have a young audience. But they are never going to see our performances because all the attention and money is where these big performers are.”

More In: Karnataka | National