KOCHI: Every year, Narayanan Peruvannan, a veteran Theyyam artist who hails from Ulliyeri in rural Kozhikode, performs at nearly 500 venues. He is usually busy during the festival season that begins in December and ends in April, the Malayalam months of Meenam and Medam. But since the past two years, the pandemic and subsequent curbs on public gatherings have drawn the curtains on his livelihood.
But Narayanan is not alone in this plight.
“We have been travelling across the country and performing the art forms for many generations now. Even the fifth generation of the family are Theyyam artists. Every year, we perform at around 60 temples during the festival season. We have also been part of the events conducted by the state government and tourism department. But we barely have shows now, or any chances to earn,” shares 82-year-old Narayanan.
Narayanan’s two sons Nidheesh and Prajeesh are also Theyyam performers who have even done shows abroad. “As compared to 10 shows we get around this time of the year, we hardly get any show now due to restrictions. Many folk artists are now struggling to feed their families and have even shifted to other daily wage jobs for survival,” says Prajeesh, who also does daily wage jobs for a living. Though many of them have been testing the digital waters, lack of infrastructure is a big hurdle.
Highlighting the crisis, Prajeesh says, “Though last year, the state government provided folk artists `1,000 as Covid relief, no such initiatives have been taken this time. Most of the artists come from financially backward sections of society and just when things were getting back to normal, the second lockdown has ruined their dreams.”
The chavittu nadakam artists in North Paravoor have also been living with little hope for the future. Jojo Johny, who is part of the Yuvajana Chavittu Nadaka Kala Samithi run by renowned artist Thampy Payyapalli, says the troupes used to get opportunities to perform at various governmental and religious festivities before the pandemic. The art form was also staged for foreign tourists arriving in the city every year. However, due travel restrictions owing to the lockdown, the artists are struggling financially.
“From the three-hour-long plays to 30-minute performances, the Latin Christian folk art form has evolved over the years and to be even included in school festivals. Teaching students used to be a major source of income for artists. With uncertainty prevailing regarding the reopening of schools and social gatherings, the chavittu nadakam artists have no hopes left. “Folk art forms like chavittu nadakam requires about 30 performers. Apart from them, we need live singers and backstage workers. Replicating it on a virtual platform is hence impossible,” Jojo adds.