Pune: With diminishing opportunities to stage a performance, on World Theatre Day celebrated on March 27, Marathi folk artists confess that if this continues, they will be on the verge of extinction. As a result of the challenges faced by the agrarian economy in rural parts of the State, the number of village fairs - which gave folk artists a platform to perform - have dropped in last few years.
Now, thousands of dancers, producers, instruments players and backstage artists fear losing their dear jobs, which were nothing but their passion. A few smalltime artists have started working as domestic maids to stay afloat.
Surekha Punekar, a celebrated lavani performer, told Sakal Times that she saw a massive drop in her performances. She said, “Four years ago, I used to take part in 250-300 performances every year but now the number of performances have dropped to less than 100.”
Punekar added that if this is the case of renowned artists like her, then one could imagine what the other artists might have been going through.
Shivani Bhate, another performer staging shows like ‘Lavani Mahasangram,’ told Sakal Times that after demonetisation, they saw a drop in the number of shows, as the rural population found it difficult to use an alternate mode of payment as digital payments were a novelty. Bhate added, “The price drop in the vegetable market, increasing inflation have further added to our woes.”
Punekar added that the culture of organising lavani performance has drastically changed in last few years. She added that MLAs associated with ruling party do not organise lavani performances.
In Pune alone, around 15-20 production companies like Jai Ganesh, Shri Sai Shankutala Production are involved in staging Lavani shows, informed Nanasaheb Mohite, Deputy General Secretary of Lavani Nirmata Sangh (an association of producers of Lavani shows in the State). Mohite added that at least 25 persons work to put together a single show. He said that it means close to five hundred artists are dependent on these performances for their livelihood.
The producer of ‘Natarangi Nar’, Baba Pathan, told Sakal Times, “Things worsened for us after current government came to power four years ago.” Pathan added that village fairs have reduced by 40 per cent. Pathan cited fairs, which used to pull crowds to lavani shows, have become a rare occurrence. He added that among the fairs that were cancelled in last few years include Kagal taluka in Kolhapur, Alephata in Junnar taluka in Pune. He further added that Lavani Mahotsav - the festivals giving the opportunity to folk artists to showcase their talent - have become few and far in between.
Shivani Bhate, danseuse, alleged that unlike earlier governments in the State, the current regime is not caring for folk artists, who are dependent on this profession for their livelihood. She added that though few girls in this profession are educated and equipped to dabble in alternate professions, a majority of them are still uneducated and will be thrown on the streets if the number of shows continues to reduce.
Mohite seconded Bhate and said that the government should launch a welfare scheme for lavani artists and producers.
Milind Kasbe, a researcher, who did his doctorate in ‘Modern Tamasha -folk art’, told Sakal Times that challenges ahead of the agrarian economy is just one among the many reasons for the deterioration of Tamasha and Lavani. While counting other reasons responsible for the downturn of this folk art,
Kasbe added that changing entertainment preferences of people governed by glam TV shows is one of the important reasons, which explains how the audience is turning its back towards Lavani performances.
Kasbe further added that in addition to this, the production companies are heavily dependent on private money lenders to put together their shows, Lesser response and high-interest rates are chocking this art. He further added that the addictions run rampant among the artists and others is also causing the decay of this age-old art