BENGALURU: A third-generation leather puppeteer, Gunduraju grew up watching his father and grandfather re-telling the Ramayana and Mahabharata through puppetry. So it was only natural for him to follow in the footsteps. Today, amid the lockdown, the 61-year-old finds that life has come to a standstill. “I don’t know anything else. I haven’t earned a single rupee in the last two months,” says Gunduraju from Hassan, who used to go from village to village depicting epics. “People would give us kilos of ration and the wealthier ones would tip us with cash,” says Gunduraju who has travelled across the world to showcase his art form.
This is the plight of rural folk artistes in Karnataka, who are involved in art forms such as Jogathi Nritya, Jaggalige and Pudigi Nritya. They are struggling to make a living on the traditional art that they have tried to save from fading into oblivion. Radhabai who plays the Chowdki Pada, recalls her days when shows would come by a couple of times a month. “We have been doing this and will continue to sing along for the rest of our lives,” says a hopeful Radhabai. Adapting to the digital medium to share her story, Padmavati from the Halakki tribe of Uttara Kannada participated in a webinar organised by Native Picture. The folk storyteller sings epic songs from tribal Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Dancer Madhu Nataraj, director, Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, has taken to crowdfunding to help them. Nataraj believes that this is in her ‘genetic memory’, with her father MS Natarajan taking folk artistes on tours, and her mother Dr Maya Rao working on integrating them into mainstream. “We are looking at a two-pronged approach – we had held a dance conference last month in support of the ritualistic performers of Karnataka, and are also raising money on a crowd-funding platform. With no state support and meagre-to-no savings, they face a bleak future,” says the founder of STEM Dance Kampni about the fund-raiser which also saw participation from prominent artistes such as Mahesh Dattani and Anita Ratnam.
The conference supports 10 families of these artistes for five months, with some funds already having been dispatched. With the help of folk researcher Sneha Kappanna, 10 families that need help with essentials have been identified. “The budget for this endeavour is `6 lakh,” she says.
According to Anupama Hoskere, founder-director Dhaatu Puppet Theatre, the mood of the rural folk is anxious. “When there’s no peace of mind, the creativity which is required for these forms does not flow,” says Hoskere. “It’s time for traditional art to also go digital. This is possible even in villages because almost every person has access to internet.” She adds that for any art to thrive, artistes need to interact with the public. “However, artistes also have to be proactive and have an equal role in keeping their art alive,” she says.