How practitioners of different art forms are coping as all cultural programmes have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus lockdown

Parvathy Menon on stage

Parvathy Menon on stage   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The artistes speak about how they have been affected and what they are doing during this period

It is a race against time to stop the spread of COVID-19. No efforts have been spared to try and maintain social distancing. Along with cinemas and other events in Kerala, several cultural programmes held in connection with temple festivals, big and small, and by cultural organisations have been cancelled all over the State. Those affected by this are hundreds of musicians, percussionists and performers of classical art forms such as Kathakali, Koodiyattam, Carnatic musicians and so on. While artistes on the rolls of training institutes, colleges and Devaswom Boards can be assured of their monthly salary, those affected by the cancellations are freelance artistes and those who depend on recitals for their livelihood. FridayReview speaks to practitioners of different art forms to find out how they have been affected by the steps to contain the virus. And what they are doing during this period when stages have fallen silent.

Parvathy Menon

(Kathakali artiste)

One of our recitals did get cancelled and that was in Pathanamthitta. One has been postponed. I am not sure if it will be rescheduled. I am a homemaker with a passion for Kathakali. So it is not a question of a livelihood for me. But for many artistes the lockdown and cancellation of programmes and temple festivals have come as a blow. My heart goes out to them. This was the season that helped them save up for a rainy day. Now, that has been thrown out of gear. In certain temples, Santhanagopalam is staged as an offering. For instance, at Maruthorvattom Sri Dhanwanthari Temple at Cherthala, near Alappuzha, there are 57 days of Kathakali. That meant work for Kathakali artistes, percussionists, vocalists, make-up artistes and so on. Since it is doubtful if it will go as per the plan, a whole lot of those involved in traditional art forms will be in dire straits. As it is, but for a handful of leading artistes, Kathakali artistes are paid a pittance for performances.

Moreover, many resorts stage truncated Kathakali recitals for their guests, a means of income for artistes staying away from big towns. The slump in tourism will deprive them of that and I wonder if any of them will pay these artistes at least a nominal amount to help them cope with this crisis. While many are keen on using Kathakali for ads and for videos such as the latest ones that advocate washing of hands with soap to prevent getting an infection, not many stop to think about the plight of many artistes who depend on stages to earn a living. So it would be wonderful if some of these ad agencies and others conduct Kathakali recitals to give them opportunities to make ends meet. As for me, I will continue practising at home!

Avaneeswaram Vinu and Aswathy Vinu

(Violinist and vocalist-academic)

Avaneeswaram Vinu and Aswathy Vinu

Avaneeswaram Vinu and Aswathy Vinu   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

My wife, Aswathy, a Carnatic vocalist and faculty member at NSS College for Women, and I had to cancel our trip to the US. I had a couple of solo performances and Aswathy had a few concerts. We were supposed to go for the visa interview in Chennai when the ban on travelling to the US was announced. So the entire concert schedule got cancelled. I am not sure if it can be rescheduled. Several of my concerts in the State have also been called off in adherence with the Government’s directive to avoid crowds and maintain social distancing. I have been practising and listening to music as I usually do when I am at home.

NJ Nandini

(Carnatic vocalist)

NJ Nandini

NJ Nandini   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Since we are all at home, I have been learning some new kritis, listening to the masters and working on some projects I am involved with. I am a guest faculty at the Swathi Thirunal College of Music and we are in the process of choreographing some rare Swathi kritis in the Kerala Natanam dance format. The College perhaps has the only department in Kerala that is dedicated to Kerala Natanam. I will be taking care of the music and the department will take up the choreography. Another pet project is a musical drama I have been visualising for some time. It will be staged by my students and all the songs will be Carnatic compositions. The actors, like in the plays of yore, will be singing the pieces themselves. In the early days of theatre and cinema in India, the songs were sung by actors themselves and greats like MS Amma (MS Subbulakshmi) are pioneers on screen. I was extremely disappointed that a special concert dedicated to Swathi Thirunal organised by All India Radio for an invited audience had to be put on hold. Even a recording at AIR has been postponed.

Udupi S Sreedhar

(Ghatam artiste)

Udupi S Sreedhar

Udupi S Sreedhar   | Photo Credit: S Mahinsha

I have never faced such a situation in my entire career. Four programmes have already been cancelled. I don’t know whether organisers will go ahead with programmes scheduled for next month. My three sons [Udupi Srikanth, Udupi Srinath and Udupi Srijith], also artistes, have had their stage programmes cancelled, some of which were scheduled in Chennai and Mumbai. But this setback is nothing compared to the grave situation that we are in now. Every individual in society is affected. As for the artistes, I can totally empathise with those who solely depend on stage programmes for a living. But at present we can’t afford to take any risk and the only option is to be at home. None of us can predict how things will pan out. The only good thing that has come out of this is that, except for a few, people have come together, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, to follow the precautions and stop the spread.

Vinitha Nedungadi

(Mohiniyattam dancer)

Vinitha Nedungadi

Vinitha Nedungadi   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Even though there is disappointment over the cancellation of my programmes, I prefer to stay optimistic. I have closed down my dance classes. However, a few of them are learning online. Even though I can teach only one or two students at a time, that is perfectly fine with me. This is a time to stay at home and prove that you are a responsible citizen.

Payyannur Govinda Prasad

(Morsing-Mridangam artiste)

Payyannur Govinda Prasad, morsing-mridangam artiste

Payyannur Govinda Prasad, morsing-mridangam artiste   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

I am a full-time artiste and don’t take tuitions or online classes. I had concerts in temples in different parts of Kerala and outside the state, besides a few recordings as well. At least 20 events till April 20 have been cancelled so far. It is a disheartening scenario. Many artistes don’t have savings and some of us are burdened by loans as well. An extension of deadlines for repayment of loans for traditional and classical artistes will bring a lot of relief. At the same time, I also feel that I am better off when compared to those people in the lowest strata of the society who eke out a living with their meagre income. The only silver lining is that I am spending more time with my family and children.

Sooraj Nambiar

(Koodiyattam artiste)

Sooraj Nambiar, Koodiyattam artiste

Sooraj Nambiar, Koodiyattam artiste   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

I was looking forward to some of the performances, especially one at Mussoorie and some workshops, besides programmes at my native place, Irinjalakkuda. Now I am confined to my home, reading books and doing some farming. I prefer to stay optimistic even when I don’t know what is going to happen next. I call up friends and fellow artistes to ensure that they also are at home. It is a tough time for all artistes. However, at least we can try to stay occupied by indulging in something creative related to our respective art forms. But I can’t stop thinking about the economically backward sections of our society who will have no work. Also, I wonder what those people with no artistic inclination will be doing at home.

Sreelakshmy Govardhanan

(Kuchipudi danseuse)

Sreelakshmy Govardhanan

Sreelakshmy Govardhanan   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

I am taking each day as it comes. I have been working on several productions for the coming months and had set deadlines for each of them. But now everything is in a limbo. I am trying to use the free time to do something creative. I am also cleaning my flat, room by room, organising my wardrobe and trying out new recipes with minimal ingredients. However, at the back of mind I am stressed because there is apprehension and insecurity around. Things have gone beyond thinking about art or earning an income. This is a phase when we all have to understand that life is short and so we have to live in the moment. Since my dance classes have been cancelled, I have told my students to practise at home and send me videos so that I can suggest the corrections. Or, I give them assignments over phone.

Usha Nangiar

(Nangiarkoothu artiste)

Usha Nangiar

Usha Nangiar   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Since I am a faculty at Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit not many programmes were scheduled. However, now that the classes have been suspended, I am at home working on a production I have in mind. I had plans to do a documentary as well, but that has been postponed for the time being. I am concentrating on writing, besides organising my collection of books. I am not sure how my fellow artistes, especially those who depend solely on the festival season, are going to tide over the crisis. But there is no other go other than staying indoors. That is the way to stay united for a cause.

Margi Madhu

(Koodiyattam artiste)

Margi Madhu

Margi Madhu   | Photo Credit: R Ragu

We were supposed to go to Israel for recitals and discussions at Hebrew University but I doubt if that will happen now. So we are now reading the texts and the Natyashastra, something that we rarely get time for during the season when there are programmes in many places. For now, it is practice, reading and discussions. It is a tough phase and we have to pull along.

Kavalam Sreekumar

(Carnatic vocalist and playback singer )

Kavalam Sreekumar

Kavalam Sreekumar   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

For six weeks now, every Friday, I have had live sessions on Facebook, singing pieces of whatever genre I was in the mood for. I have also been recording and posting four- and five-minute video clips of different kinds of music: folk, film songs, poems, compositions of my father (the late Kavalam Narayana Panikker), Carnatic...I spend about four to five hours every day in my studio. I am using this period to compose, recite and record verses from the Bhagavatham that my father had interpreted in Malayalam. It is a work that he had completed just weeks before he passed away. Recently, I got a copy of it and I have been working on it. It is going to take time but I am enjoying it.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 2:09:43 PM |

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