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"Honey, I shrunk the kids"
- V.P. Dhananjayan

October 29, 2020

Today's virtual viewing of naatya performances reminds me of the Hollywood movie titled "Honey, I shrunk the kids" (1989). About 15 years ago when I did a lecture demonstration for the august audience of the Madras Music Academy, I explained the reason for the limited audience for naatya performances. Naatya is an intimate theatre and Rasotpathi (enjoyment) happens only when one watches the artistes closer. Proximity to the performing arena enhances viewing pleasure and makes it enjoyable. Music concerts have larger listeners because the amplification brings the performing artists' voice and sound of instruments much closer to the Rasika's ears, so they could enjoy the music even sitting at the last row of a proscenium stage or an open arena. Light music concerts attract a much larger audience because it is louder, so a stadium-like place gets filled up. So the bigger and larger the size, has a better impact on the human mind. A solo performance has lesser attendance than a group naatya show.

Movie or film actors are popular and remembered well because they are seen much larger than life size, so the impact is greater. The large size posters and cutouts give lasting impact on the passersby. Look at the small screen productions and their actors; they are not well recognised or remembered like their counterparts in a film.

So to say, there are better actors in the mini screen drama productions, but they are not as popular as the regular cinema actors. The same way, stage theater actors have better acting abilities than the film actors, but they don't become celebrities overnight like film people. The same theory applies to classical theatres of any kind. People immensely enjoy a Koodiyattam, Chakyarkoothu or a Kathakali performance in a koothambalam arena. The small number of knowledgeable rasikas go gaga over the performances. But the same performance in a proscenium theatre attracts a very limited audience.

It is also an open secret that any classical performing artiste, whether she or he is a musician or dancer who has a stint in a celluloid medium irrespective of their caliber, gets easily popular and attains celebrity status in their respective field. They also get more opportunities and demand high remuneration compared to their counterparts who may be better artistes.

Coming to the current pathetic situation, confining our art to the virtual media has shrunk to a miniature size. Viewers cannot even recognise the face, leave alone the performer's facial expressions. Just about anybody gets an opportunity to perform in a half an hour slot created by individual artistes and institutions without any specific criteria attached to their performances. These miniature performances have further shrunk the impact of a regular naatya performance. While a lot of non professional young performers are getting opportunities free of hassles of pay to perform, professionals - both performers and accompanying musicians - are languishing without work and livelihood. For the Instagram performances, thank god the artistes need not pay to perform. But I am not sure if some of them spend from their own pocket to get a chance.

Suffice it to say, instead of getting larger screen space, we have shrunk to miniature size - as the Hollywood films says, "Honey, I shrunk the kids."

Natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan is the director of Bharata Kalanjali, Chennai.

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