Nov 09, 2012 at 10:01am IST

Kerala: Roping in Gulf Malayalis to revive age-old arts

Dubai: He quit India's space agency many years ago to spur a revival of India's cultural traditions across the world. Today, Nataraja 'Soorya' Krishnamoorthy is busy trying to rejuvenate Kerala's age-old arts, enable folk and theatre artists to live a more dignified life and also integrate Malayali artistes living outside Kerala, especially those in the Gulf countries. Krishnamoorthy, the brain behind the reputed Soorya Festival, is determined to use his position as the current Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi chairman to make a difference by recognising "the genuine artistes" in the state and the contribution of Pravasi Malayalis - those living outside it.

"I want people to know who the genuine artistes are. All these years I have been doing it through Soorya, now I will use my position to implement it," Krishnamoorthy, who has been a member of the expert committee of the Indian government's Department of Culture, told IANS in an interview here. And by genuine artistes, he refers to those practising classical dance, music, theatre, Vaadyam (the percussionists of Kerala) and Kathaprasangam (the centuries-old art of storytelling that is high in satire and carries messages of social reform), apart from other folk and ritualistic arts.

"If these people are full-time professional artistes, they are poor. They are unable to earn money from their arts," said Krishnamoorthy, who quit the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) after putting in 27 years as an engineer-scientist. Thus, the first step he took within months of assuming office last year was to get the artists medical insurance with help from several well-wishers, including top Malayalam movie stars.

Kerala: Roping in Gulf Malayalis to revive age-old arts

'Soorya' Krishnamoorthy is trying to rejuvenate Kerala's age-old arts by integrating Malayalis living in the Gulf.

"Their health is a priority. They are unable to go to hospital or buy medicines. So we are now providing them mediclaim upto Rs 100,000. They can get admitted to any hospital, hire an ambulance and buy medicines. And I haven't taken money from the government to pay the insurance premium. Several people like (actors) Mohanlal and Mammootty have given huge amounts because of their friendship. So also B.R. Shetty, the CEO of UAE Exchange."

Krishnamoorthy has also secured them life insurance policies in case of accidents. "These artists often have to drive home at night after a performance in faraway towns. And this many times leads to accidents and death. In such cases, Rs 200,000 will go to their family."

Krishnamoorthy's biggest link to the Gulf countries is Shetty, also the chairman of the NMC healthcare group and the chief patron of the Soorya Festival. He hopes to now integrate more Pravasi Malayalis through culture. "Gulf Malayalis miss their culture so they preserve it better. So they must be recognised," he stressed, referring to the over 25 lakh Malayalis in the region. "I thought Pravasi Malayalis should also get some benefit of the Akademi. They have never been recognised so far," he added.

Krishnamoorthy also has the support of Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy. "The chief minister said that with half the effort, you will get double the benefit in Gulf countries." Having held meetings with several Malayali organisations in the Gulf, his aim is to unite them through the Akademi, cutting across communities and religion. "It's a great dream to bring together the Malayali associations in the Gulf," he said.

Krishnamoorthy wants three awards, equivalent to the Akademi award in Kerala, to be given to artistes in each Gulf country. He has also started the process of holding theatre competitions in the Gulf countries. The move to assimilate the Gulf Malayalis comes close on the heels of reaching out to those living in different parts of India. "We have made four zones with headquarters at Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. We are trying to give five Akademi awards to artistes living outside Kerala," he said.

Krishnamoorthy is the founder of the 36 year-old Soorya Stage and Film Society, which has chapters in 36 countries, including Britain, Australia, UAE, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. The Soorya Festival, which has been recognised as the longest running festival in the world by the Limca Book of Records, has now become a 365-day event spanning several Indian cities. Having spent decades promoting Indian culture, Krishnamoorthy is disillusioned at the way artistes are treated by the government and the people.

"Our tradition says artistes are not for entertaining others. Artistes are very close to god. But Bollywood stars and sportspersons get Padma awards at a very young age but artistes who give their whole life to art and culture get no recognition," Krishnammorthy lamented, citing eminent Malayalam playwright Thoppil Bhasi and poet P. Bhaskaran among those who truly deserved more honours.

Asked why he quit his well-paying ISRO job to promote cultural traditions, he attributed this to an "inner calling". "Even if one person gets enriched with each of my efforts, I get a sense of satisfaction," Krishnammorthy said.

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