The sound of the thunderous rain in her background couldn’t faze an emotional Kavita Krishnamurthy as she recounted the days when a cup of chai would sustain artistes for 10 hours while recording a song. She, among other artistes, was speaking at an online press meet for a forthcoming virtual fundraising art gala I Believe #ArtMatters.
The pandemic-triggered lockdown has crippled the ecosystem, she said. The nadaswaram man, who plays at weddings, like at her own, the chenda and shehnai players, who were paid by the hour or day, their livelihood has stopped, and that of small artistes and instrument makers, completely destroyed. As also, the sound and light boys, mic and stage arranger, etc., said the Padma Shri singer, who has rendered her voice to more than 25,000 songs in 16 languages.
An internal research by National Centre for the Performing Arts shows that to put one artiste (theatre actor/dancer/musician) on a stage, an average of 33 people are needed, said Sanjoy K Roy, co-founder and managing director of Teamwork Arts, the force behind the #ArtMatters campaign. It started days after the lockdown to do art advocacy at a policy level and help raise funds. “By our estimation, there are 10 million jobs in the formal sector in the arts arena, nine million of which are at risk right now or have disappeared. The overall numbers are around 400 million who either receive a primary or a secondary income from the arts,” said Roy.
Art/artistes are needed to inspire and heal – whether to relax, said violinist L Subramaniam, or at weddings and corporate events, added Shillong Chamber Choir lead singer William Richmond, or to raise war and disaster funds, added Krishnamurthy. “Artistes also need to eat, pay rent, buy medicines. Today, they are in trouble, else they’d never ask,” she further said.
While Shillong Chamber Choir went about with home-delivery services to the elderly, poor, and healthcare workers in the Northeast, musicians Shubha Mudgal and Aneesh Pradhan (‘Gift A Concert’ @giftaconcert, online curated thematic concerts) and TM Krishna (through Sumanasa Foundation, which has raised Rs 80 lakh since April and supported 2,500 artistes), among many others, continue to raise funds. Last week, Padma Vibhushan Bharatanatyam dancer Sonal Mansingh appealed in the Rajya Sabha for government intervention through an economic package/financial help. It drowned in the din of other issues.
Touted as “India’s biggest fundraising gala by artistes, for artistes”, I Believe #ArtMatters, in partnership with BookMyShow, FICCI, Unesco, and ICCR, will bring together 450-plus artistes for 70 acts at the virtual five-hour-long extravaganza of music, dance, theatre, poetry and stand-up comedy on October 4 at 12 pm on BookMyShow and Teamwork Arts Facebook page. The proceeds raised through donations will go to those dependent on the arts.
There will be collaborations, new performances, and music releases such as Shantanu Moitra and Swanand Kirkire’s Gubbaare, and Aatishbaaziyaan sung by Shekhar Ravjiani, composed by Shillong Chamber Choir and written by Anvita Dutt, Trayam (BC Manjunath, Varijashree Venugopal, Praveen D Rao) featuring Pramath Kiran will release their new video 23. Popular category will feature Amit Trivedi, Salim-Suleiman, Usha Uthup, Kailash Kher, Ankur Tewari, Shilpa Rao, Harshdeep Kaur and AR Rahman and his Sunshine Orchestra comprising economically under-served children, indie acts will include Indian Ocean, Advaita, Raghu Dixit Project, Bipul Chhetri, and in folk, Aabha Hanjura, Chugge Khan, Kutle Khan, Kabir Cafe, among others, and classical recitals by L Subramaniam and Kavita Krishnamurthy, Grammy-winning Vikku Vinayakram and 3G, TM Krishna, Vidya Shah, V Selvaganesh with Sivamani.
“Art is the most important tool to get back to sanity. Without art there is no holistic approach to human life,” said Subramaniam. “There needs to be a short-term and a long-term plan. The UK gave £1.57 rescue package to artistes, Los Angeles musicians have a union the (American Federation of Musicians) Local 47. In the short-term, we need to have an organisation. There are singers’ and lyricists’ associations but no association for the classical artiste. And, in the long-term, the artistes need to be paid the royalty that is owed to them. Many have been cheated for so long, the 10-20 per cent royalty for recording hasn’t been paid for years. Instrumentalists, lyricists and singers should get separate royalty,” he added.
“I have dance bursting from my bones and stopping at my skin,” said a disquieted Aditi Mangaldas. On the gala day, Mangaldas, Manjari Chaturvedi, and UK-based dance group Ankh will present Kathak, there will be Bharatanatyam by Rukmini Vijayakumar and Malavika Sarukkai, Kuchipudi by Raja and Radha Reddy, and contemporary dance by Ashley Lobo and Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, among other styles.
“Classical dance and music are the beacons, torchbearers of our culture. If those are not supported, what chance do we theatre people – at the bottom of the art ladder – even stand?” said Lillete Dubey, whose “pockets and crazy junoon” helped her navigate 30 years. Dubey added that it’s irrational to get five actors to act in a room, shoot and upload without using the ecosystem – set, costume, light and sound designers. Online gigs, she said, “aren’t generating employment. Nothing online can be a long-term viable option.”
With a slew of presenters like Shabana Azmi, Manoj Bajpayee, Sharmila Tagore, Nandita Das, Anand Mahindra, the gala day will pack in plays like Piya Behrupiya, Mahabharat, Akshayambara, Shikhandi, Andha Yug, C Sharp C Blunt, Elephant in the Room, Hamlet-The Crown Prince, stand-up comedy (Radhika Vaz, Abish Mathew) and spoken-word pieces (Javed Akhtar, Varun Grover).
“I’m saying with folded hands, please donate. And I hope the wrong people don’t take this money,” said Krishnamurthy.