"There is nothing sadder than an artist becoming distant from his art." said Jaya Chandra, a Theatre artist, in his mid thirties, hailing from the Surabhi Theatre artists community. Jaya Chandra is one among nearly 65 families whose lifeline and livelihood was dependent on theatre performance. Jaya Chandra comes from the historical Sri Venkateswara Surabhi Theatre group which has been run by a family of artists for the last 135 years.
The group has brought several timeless and classical plays to life. Plays like Mayabazar, Jai Pathala Bairavi, Baktha Prahlada, and Sri Krishna Leelalu were few of the many that the group has performed. The speciality of the group is all the actors and technicians are all from the same family, including children and women of all age groups as per the requirement of the script.
Trouble began for the group as they had to stop playing at Lalita Kala Thoranam in Nampally Public Gardens, a month before the COVID-19 lockdown was announced. Jaya Chandra succeeds his grand father Surabhi Nageshwar Rao, a Padma Shree awardee for his contribution in theatre arts.
Jaya Chandra says "Even before the lockdown, we were not doing well but with the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, we had to stop performing the plays. For those two to three months we have suffered a lot, a few good samaritans from the Telugu film fraternity have provided us with groceries."
Artists with no plays due to prevailing COVID19 conditions were left with nothing and were forced to opt for petty jobs for survival. Some were reluctant as they had no touch with any other work other than performing art.
Recently, with the help of art enthusiasts and NGOs, the group started live and pre-recorded telecasts of their plays through Zoom and other platforms. The group now seeks commissions for the shows.
After their forced separation from their art, the family has already been pitching for online shows and so far a couple of shows have been successfully screened online. Jaya Chandra says "There are a few technical challenges, but we have adapted to this easily. We will never let down the expectations of our audience and art lovers if they give us an opportunity. Supporting us will not just help us but also contribute to the survival of the art from this generation to the next."
The Theatre art began in Surabhi of Kadapa district over four decades ago as its name suggests by the artist community which said to have migrated to the place from erstwhile Marathwada region.
Jaya Chandra who also received Ustad Bismillah Khan Award is seeking support from art enthusiasts, NGOs, philanthropists and the Telangana government to provide them with shows as they want to make a comeback on digital and physical platforms as things are returning to normalcy.