Kolkata: There is a young boy, a student of Class IV, who lives in the apartment next to mine. My study table faces his bedroom window. It has been the norm for us to always interact through our windows, never bothering to pay that cordial visit to new neighbours. This morning, as early as 7 am in the morning when I opened my window I heard him singing Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Ami chini go chini tomare/ogo bideshni’ with the harmonium as accompaniment. As I looked out I saw his mother sitting down next to him and listening in rapt attention. I stopped for a while, let him finish his song and cheered in my usual manner, window-to-window!
Rabindra Jayanti in times of Covid-19 is different for all of us! There are no social gatherings, only social distancing. There is no pressing need to dress up, just major missing of neighbourhood loudspeakers playing all the Tagore that have been stocked up in local clubs! There is no stage set up in the corner of the road, no Rabindra Sadan or Rabindra Tirtha to go to! The only thing to do is to log in to your dear old computer, to see you through work from home assignments! But before you rue the lack of Tagore functions, spare a thought for all the live musicians and artistes who are out of work because of social distancing rules. Just as there are job cuts and pay cuts in every field, this Rabindra Jayanti artistes and performers are staring at a bleak future with sponsors drying up, patrons shutting shop and little money trickling in from online slots on social media.
Gourab Chatterjee (Gabu) from Lakhichchara says, “The situation is very bleak. There is no work for live musicians. Also music directors for films, web series, advertisements, etc need to shoot for something before they compose a score. Everyone is working with limited finances. There are some companies who are still making homemade jingles and there is some work that has been shot before the lockdown was imposed. Plus some artistes have some material on different audio and video platforms which is generating some revenue. But it is all very little.”
So what does the immediate future have in store for artistes? “Everything is going to be online, both in terms of content and interaction. People are trying out different avenues to generate revenue. Sponsored online events shall start happening soon. This will generate revenue. I don’t see any live shows happening any time soon,” Chatterjee added.
Lockdown can’t stop art
Apart from musicians, actors and theatre artistes are also in a fix. “These are very difficult times for all of us. Every day we are getting to know about more and more deaths. Not just Covid-19 but also the Vizag gas leak! We are all quite scared about what is going to come next! This lockdown is something we have to follow, we don’t have an option. We have to follow the instructions of the government. It is not as if artistes are not going to perform on Rabindra Jayanti this year. There are a lot of programmes scheduled albeit on a different platform. The tone and flavour are different this year. I have always maintained that the social media platform is an extremely powerful medium and in these times of the lockdown it has been proved all over again. People are performing live on Facebook and that has brought in a lot of audience appreciation as well as positive feedback,” said Udvas Roy, actor and radio jockey.
Roy is also actively involved both in theatre and has also worked in several web series. He goes on to add that art is something that can never be blocked, no matter what the situation. He points out, “When Iranian filmmaker Zafar Panahi was under house arrest he made an entire film on the mobile phone, while taking a tour of his city on a taxi and simultaneously shooting passing images from the taxi window. And that particular film received accolades from audiences all over the world. Art will only come to a standstill if the artiste begins to think that it is time to stop. So the lockdown will not stop art at all!”
Incidentally, ‘Drishyapat’ the theatre group he is associated with also celebrates its birth anniversary on May 8 which is Rabindra Jayanti. The group completes 31 years this year. They planned to stage three different plays to mark the occasion, but destiny had other plans. They have come up with a production called ‘Totakahini’, which released on Facebook and Youtube. The members of Drishyapat have also shot a film at home and edited it themselves. The script was written by one of their members. This is also scheduled to be released on social media soon. Even if the lockdown is lifted artistes across the nation may not immediately be able to get back to work. It will take some time to get things back to where they were. There would be no shows, no rehearsals and of course no shoots!
“For someone like me who has been associated with theatre for almost 12 years, going for rehearsals has become a routine. Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for rehearsals. I miss that chatter at the rehearsals. I miss my troupe and I also miss that room. It is a strange feeling that after so many years, I can’t go for a rehearsal! Apart from other days, those two days in particular have been quite difficult for me. Between 6pm-9pm I can’t really figure out what exactly should I do with myself…,” added Roy.
Miss Live Audience
Apart from the creativity, the lockdown has taken a toll on artistes economically as well. In fact money has been quite an issue, especially for actors who mostly work on a freelance basis. Freelance actors do not have a definite package or a contract. As a result they don’t have a steady source of monthly income. Since most offices are closed, quite a bit of pending payments are still due, with little hope of funds being sanctioned any time soon.
For an artiste nothing can be more important than a stage performance. But what does one do, when things are out of control? Singer Aitijhya Roy says, “Every year on Rabindra Jayanti I wake up early in the morning, dress up in a bright sari and wear flowers in my hair. Then I set out for a series of programmes that are usually scheduled for the rest of the day. In short, I’m out all day! But this time I didn’t go out and all the performances were on various Facebook pages. That was what was so unique about this year. It was heart-breaking because an artiste can never feel fulfilled unless he/she is performing in front of a live audience. We artistes thrive on audience adulation. That was something I missed terribly. But, thank god for social media! I shudder to think what would have happened if we didn’t have this much to keep ourselves occupied! But finances have also been affected badly. For a performer like me, my shows are my means of income. But now we don’t do shows anymore and there will be no shows for quite a long time even if the lockdown is lifted! So the money has stopped coming in, even though on a creative level social media has kept us alive. But in all this darkness there is something we can always fall back on. And that is Tagore and his vast chest of music and writings that he has left behind for us. His music is like a soothing balm for the tormented soul, especially in trying times like these. I always resort to Tagore’s work, no matter what situation I am in. I suggest we all do the same, it will help us cope better in such trying times.”
Gaudiya Nritya dancer Arni Bagchi, who also works as a dance teacher at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, agrees. A positive attitude, she emphasizes will help us sail through it all. “Even if we are at home, all artistes will celebrate Rabindra Jayanti at home in our own little ways. I did a Facebook live and also uploaded a video of a dance performance choreographed especially for Rabindra Jayanti. A lot of people I know have also planned seminars on the Zoom app, free of registration cost to pay homage to Tagore in their own ways. I’m trying to handle the situation in a positive manner. That is the best we can do at this time. At the end of the day we need to survive as a human race. Art alone will help us tide through this crisis. It doesn’t matter whether you are an artiste yourself. Every time you are low, take refuge in art. It will help your spirit stay alive,” she adds.
Dance exponent Ankita Guha who also posted a video of a performance that she orchestrated from the terrace of her home said, “Tagore is immortal, he can never be a memory. I chose to perform in the song ‘Tumi robe nirobe’ because Tagore for Bengalis is a sensitivity. It is something we cannot stay away from. I did it for my students, to help them stay positive and lift their spirits, even if classes are shut for the time being.”