Bhubaneswar: Until a few weeks ago, theatre troupes across the state were having a tough time in booking city auditoriums like Rabindra Mandap, Bhanja Kala Mandap and Utkal Mandap to stage plays. Reason: The annual calendar of these mandaps remained chock-a-block round the year. However, now the scenario has completely changed and the complexes are wearing a deserted look.
The locked main gates of these halls now narrate a different story thanks to coronavirus-induced lockdown. Needless to say, the lockdown has affected all walks of life. The government has also announced bailout packages to help out people from different sections of the society – farmers, daily wagers, urban poor, ration card holders, destitute, differently-abled and pensioners, to name a few. However, a section that seems to have so far missed the government radar is artistes.
“The state government has announced something for everyone but what about the actors, actresses, directors, set designers, makeup artist, costume artist, musicians and many others,” asked Debananda Nayak (Sony), a drama director who grooms fresh talent through his theatre troupe ‘Expression’.
“We welcome government’s decision to release artiste pensions for four months in advance for the aging artistes, but it is very unfortunate that thousands of theatre workers of over 200 drama troupes across the state, who completely rely on dramas for their living, have been left high and dry,” added Nayak.
There are many in theatre world who can’t do anything other than acting to support their families. Bhubaneswar-based Jyoti Panda is one such actor who has performed on stage for more than 500 times. He said, “I earn my livelihood from acting and the closure of auditoriums has left me in extreme distress. Even some of my good friends have also stopped taking my calls fearing that I may ask for monetary assistance.” The future seems bleak as no one knows when the viewers will return to theatres, added Panda.
Set designer Saurasthra Jena said, “We are neither daily wage earners nor farmers to avail government’s schemes. I’m penniless now and adjusting with one of my friends. But I’m not sure how long he can support me. I wish the government realise the plight of theatre workers before they succumb to starvation.”
Echoing similar sentiments, senior stage artiste Mamata Mohanty said, “It seems that we theatre artistes don’t exist in the society during corona times. We can’t earn much from theatre to save for tough times like this. We are religiously following the lockdown rules but who knows many of us may die of hunger before being killed by coronavirus.”
A theatre worker has traditionally been the last man in the row and it is no different this time around, said actor and director Siba Sankar Tripathy, adding, everyone must understand that theatre has the power to sway opinion and create awareness on any issue. Therefore, the artistes should be considered as ‘social reformers’ and it is the moral responsibility of the government to protect the fraternity, he further said.
Contacted, Odia Language Literature and Culture department commissioner-cum-principal secretary Manoranjan Panigrahi said, “We are aware of the plight of the artistes and do feel for them. However, we don’t have proper data on their numbers. The entire machinery is involved in combating the pandemic. The government will certainly look into the matter once the situation returns to normal.”
Bijay Mandal, OP