A team of five post-graduates from the Lalit Kala Kendra, the performing arts department of Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), spent Diwali travelling through the villages of Pune and meeting artistes who were struggling against the odds due to the pandemic. Their aim was to find stellar performers of 20 art forms that would be presented on a digital platform, titled Lokkala 2020, before the country as a showcase of the performance heritage of Maharashtra. The performance will be streamed from November 30 to December 19, at 8 pm on the YouTube channel Lokkala 2020.
“It was strange that even in nearby Pune, several of these folk forms are unheard of. We focused on artistes who follow traditional practices without the modern infusions of Bollywood music that now glamourise age-old forms. They were difficult to find and some of them are very old. We filmed them in a documentary style without intruding or interrupting them through the 20-minute pieces,” says Bhushan Bhingarkar, one of the students.
The initiative to find and film the disappearing art forms, conducted in collaboration with Tech Mahindra, was a project that came to the students from Praveen Bhole, head of the department of Lalit Kala Kendra.
“For the last six or seven months, due to the lockdown, the folk artistes could not perform. In folk theatre, some are formal presentations like tamasha while others are performed in an informal manner but during the lockdown, neither form could be presented. We thought to help them by giving royalty because they could not earn during the lockdown. Secondly, since we are doing it on social media, we will display their names and contact details so anybody in the vicinity can invite them to perform,” says Bhole.
The students began by reaching out to the artistes over phone and, initially, they were unwilling to participate. “Our initial research led us to five Lavani and Tamasha performers in Dhamani, among others. It was a bit difficult to convince them to participate because they suspected city people like us. They felt we would shoot the videos and disappear without paying them. We had to work on building trust in the villages and, slowly, succeeded in breaking down barriers,” says Bhingarkar.
From the villages of Donde, Loni, Dhamani, Narayangaon and Belhe, they zeroed in on performers of Halgi Vaadan, Lakhabai che gane and Gondhal, among others. “Though we are students of art, we found that several names of the art forms were unfamiliar to us. The villages have so many art forms and talent, but we do not see them and are unaware of them. Each one of us in the group felt a responsibility for bringing these to the wider audience and the digital medium is enabling us to do that,” says Bipin Ghobale.
They met a 75-year-old Powada artiste called Rajaram Kadam who is ailing, as well as a Potraj called Sukhdev Sathe, who explained to them the significance of his costume and why his art requires a whip to beat himself with.
The process of filming and archiving in the villages has taught the group about the intricacies of logistics and improvisation. Suraj Shinde says that, at first, they would leave home for the villages and return late at night. “Filming began on November 16 and, soon, we found ourselves living in Rajgurunagar village, in a rented apartment where we keep our camera and other equipment. This has brought us in closer proximity to our subjects and the environment from which an art form grows. Most of us, in the cities, have no idea how bad the situation is in the villages. The lockdown has been hard on folk artistes. We have met old men who did not have any money and were fast losing hope of things improving,” he says.