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Geeta Chandran: No social security nets for artistes

Geeta Chandran
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Geeta Chandran

Highlights

Everything has changed in the world of performances, opines the senior classical dancer and guru

Eminent Bharatanatyam dancer and COVID-19 survivor Geeta Chandran feels that a complete lack of social security nets for artists has led to widespread panic and depression among the community.

"Everything has changed in the world of performances and the performing arts. The continuing need for physical distancing has put a full stop to performances. This situation may well continue into 2021. Incomes have stopped. And there is no solution in the near foreseeable future," Chandran, 58, told.

Elaborating, she said: "It's a desperate situation, especially for, say nadaswaram artists, who earned their living by playing at temples or at weddings. Both those options have been locked out! What will they do? Similarly, so many artists were employed by the tourism industry. Where will they go now? And even in upper-end schools, with fees not forthcoming from parents, art, music and dance teachers will be the first to lose their jobs. So it's a very sad situation, and no one in power has spoken up nor acted on behalf of the artists. The sector seems orphaned."

Chandran, who has been vocal about her recent experience with the Coronavirus, says that her institution Natya Vrikshaclosed down in early March. "After a week of utter dejection, I resumed my teaching with online classes. These classes have restored sanity not only in my disciples, but also in their family members who also attend these classes and get inspired!"

How are established and upcoming artists being affected?

The guru says: "Many established artists reacted to this situation with hectic talk shows, workshops and occasional performances online. The young dancers, eager to remain connected and informed, are pell-mell accepting and performing on any and every online portal. While these engagements can be fulfilling to the ego and may provide temporary gratification, it will not fill pockets nor stomachs. The long-term impact of online freebies is yet to be studied in detail.

"Until we find a way of adequately monetising online performances, my suggestion is not to give away everything for free. Lectures, sharing of experiences are probably ok. But performing without remuneration will kill the last vestige of dignity for the performing arts."

She observes that teaching dance and music has proliferated online, but also notes its limitations.

"One cannot, for example, teach dance to new beginners online. One can only continue practice sessions with those who are already students of dance, who are well into the learning process with a teacher. Teaching rhythm online is challenging, especially since quality of internet connections vary. So the same movement phrase is variously interpreted by varying internet speeds. Quite a nightmare actually."

The 2007 Padma Shri awardee also said that in COVID times, we cannot simply sit back and accept wayward decisions, hinting at Delhi University's recent scrapping of admission for students under the ECA (Extra Curricular Activity) categories.

"Keeping the spirits of the young and upcoming artists is going to be very difficult. (The cancellation) demoralised the young artists who have spent over a decade learning their art form, be it dance, music, theatre, creative writing, public speaking, etc. It took a high-octane campaign to get the issue reconsidered."

Finally, commenting on the centre's reopening strategy, she said: "Unlock depends on what the virus plans. If, as some scientists fear, there will be a second wave in the fall, then all plans of returning to normalcy will only come to fruition after the spring of 2021. It will be a long and hungry year for all artists!"

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