VELLORE/TIRUVANNAMALAI: Uncertainty and insecurity clouding their existence, thousands of performing artists, based in rural villages of the State, are fearing penury and starvation as Covid restrictions have deprived them of their livelihood.
The summer months are usually the most productive for folk artistes, as cultural programmes like street plays, stage dramas and stilt arts are organised in villages as part of temple festivals. However, the night lockdown, which came into effect on April 20, has caught them off guard.
“From Chithirai to Aani in Tamil calendar, we used to get good number of bookings because temple festivals are held across the State. But with the night lockdown, we have lost everything,” rues Ammu, an artiste from Arani, Tiruvannamalai district.
The night lockdown has come as a big blow for the artistes because their performance timing is between 10 pm and 5 am. These programmes are primarily held to keep the audience awake throughout the night. The artistes’ hopes of making a comeback to the stage after losing out last year owing to total lockdown are dashed now.
“Last year, we lost everything because of the lockdown during the summer months. We hoped to make good the loss this time around, but our hopes have been dashed with the enforcement of the night curfew,” laments S Kumaran of Chetpet, Tiruvannamalai.
Transgenders are a major part of street theatre troupes and the programmes help them earn a decent living. Their future looks bleak now. “When film shooting is allowed and cinema theatres are permitted to run shows, why can’t they allow us to perform in front of a small crowd in villages,” asks Ashok alias Ishwarya, a transgender artist from Ranipet.
The paltry dole given by the government is too little to make ends meet for the artistes. Ishwarya fumed, “Covid virus is not going to kill us but without our livelihood, we are going to die out of starvation.”
Not only performing artistes, shed-making workers and operators of public address systems too are feeling the heat.
The artistes have urged the government to relax the restrictions for temple festivals and other events where cultural programmes are staged in villages. “The government should consider easing the restrictions to help us earn some money. We can follow all Covid safety norms,” demands Ammu, who learnt the art from her father.