KOCHI: While the state is busy fighting a pandemic, and people are trying to get back to their normal life, artists around the world have been watching their careers fall apart. Losing livelihood and audience was hard enough, but for many of them, being unable to adapt to technology and the digital world meant the end of the line
When the Covid-19 outbreak started, Kalamandalam Venkatraman, a kathakali artist from Palakkad relaxed like every one else — he thought it would be temporary break. He never imagined it would be the beginning of a never-ending struggle — lockdown, no live shows, no audience and no money. The pandemic and its repercussions left folk artists like him struggling. “The pandemic ended all festivals and celebrations. For me, kathakali is not just a source of livelihood, I consider it my life. Not being able to perform affected me emotionally as well,” says Kalamandalam Venkatraman, who has been teaching and practising the art form for the past 40 years.
Both stages and the liberty to conduct classes for children were taken away from him. “Although digital platforms came in, I found it difficult to take classes online, as kathakali follows and requires the traditional teaching method. Many other artists and clubs came forward to help us and our families,” he says. Venkatraman is one of the first teachers to train women in kathakali.
Venkatraman’s is not a standalone case. For many folk and classical artists, the pandemic has been a trying time. Their lives revolved around tourists, festivals and crowds. Nearly 18,000 artists under the government’s Responsible Tourism Mission, specialised in different art forms such as kathakali, koodiyattam, mohiniyattam, chavittunatakam and martial arts like kalaripayattu have been left with nothing after the tourism industry collapsed.
Anil Joseph, who initially took up ayurveda, turned to kalaripayattu for a better income. However, Anil, who has been a kalari artist for seven years, says, “The situation is worse now. With no events, there is absolutely no income. Usually, foreigners would come in groups to learn the art. But with just domestic tourists now, there is very little demand,” says Anil.
While some kept away from digital transformation due to technological knowledge, some others were hesitant to teach and perform virtually. “There is a huge difference between these art forms, be it bharatanatyam or kathakali. A live experience cannot be recreated through a virtual one. Before the pandemic, for a single performance, we used to get at least `10,000. But the income is zero now.
An assistance of `1,000 was provided by the government which stopped after a bit,” says RLV Anjana Sasankan, a bharatanatyam artist from Alappuzha. A few performing artists, however, opine that the pandemic helped them explore new options in teaching and promoting their art. “I got to know more about promoting kathakali online in the form of videos. I have started doing live shows in temples and hope to earn a decent living,” says kathakali artist Kalamandalam Arunkumar.
All hopes on March
According to Rupesh Kumar, state coordinator, Responsible Tourism Mission, performing artists in the state were one of the most affected by the pandemic. “For most of the artists, the performances are the only source of livelihood. They had to struggle to fend for themselves and their families. With the festival season around the corner, more live shows and events will be conducted by us to give these artists more opportunities,” he said.