The cultural arena of the country is in deep crisis. The global epidemic has stopped all cultural activities due to the coronavirus infection. The lights are not on on the stage. Those who took the stage-centric program as a profession are living a dehumanized life without work. Some people are getting involved in different professions as they are not able to sustain their profession. Many cultural organizations have become inactive due to stagnation. Doubts have been raised about whether cultural activists who have joined different professions, or organizations that have become inactive, will be able to return to cultural activities. Many are trying to keep the activities going through virtual programs. But it cannot be an alternative to stage performances.
After a coronavirus patient was identified in the country in March last year, theater halls and stages were closed from March 26 after a general holiday was declared in the country. As a result, all cultural activities and entertainment activities of the country were stopped. There is no ceremony going on anywhere. Even the group rehearsals were stopped to maintain physical distance. The theater halls and auditoriums of the Shilpakala Academy were reopened two days a week in October when the Corona infection situation improved somewhat. All auditoriums have been closed again since April 3 this year due to the second wave of coronavirus. Although many things have been introduced since then, restrictions have been imposed on the programs. No one can say when the cultural activities will start again.
Many have started virtual events as an alternative to keep their own practices, cultural activities flowing. In particular, the discussion, music and recitation program is virtual. But theatrical and street drama exhibitions, processions, dance performances, concerts — which are attended by multiple artists and workers রয়েছে are completely closed.
In the Corona era, musicians and reciters are trying to keep themselves busy with online zoom meetings and Facebook Live. Liaquat Ali Lucky, Director General of Shilpakala Academy, sees online events as a possibility in times of crisis. Talking to Kaler Kantho, he said that the cultural arena is in the midst of the epidemic; Mankind is in crisis. In this situation, first of all, people have to survive, then they also have to maintain the flow. For this, an alternative path has been chosen through virtual program. He said the Shilpakala Academy has conducted an online program with about 20,000 artists from 64 districts through the ‘Art Against Corona’ program. Through this, an attempt has been made to keep the artists in practice and to encourage them. He said there are about three lakh people in the country whose livelihood depends on cultural activities. It would have been nice to reach out to them during this crisis.
It is learned that the day-to-day routine programs of Shilpakala Academy can be organized virtually but other activities are not possible. Due to the corona infection, the Shilpakala Academy’s biggest cultural event, the biennial Asian Fine Art Exhibition, which was scheduled to take place last December, has yet to take place. Although all the preparations for the ‘Annual National Fine Arts Exhibition’ have been completed, it is not possible to organize it. Similarly, the organization of ‘Third Bangladesh Short and Documentary Film Festival 2021’ has been postponed several times. The latest event is scheduled for March 18-25 next year. It has been reported that the festival will also be held virtually at the scheduled time if the coronation ban is not lifted at this time.
Biswajit Roy, general secretary of the Sangeet Sangathan Samonvay Parishad, also thinks that the virtual event has been a blessing for the cultural activists during this coronation. He is virtually organizing almost all day-based programs with musicians. But you can’t think of these events as an alternative to the stage. He said, “What we are organizing online is definitely not as an alternative to the stage but as a responsibility to keep the culture alive. Neither is a substitute for the other. Viewers of the virtual show can join from anywhere in the world. And the audience of the stage is a certain number. An artist on stage can show his full craft, not virtual. The reactions of the audience on stage are understandable, virtually this opportunity is low. There are many more difficulties in the field of music. There is a shortage of equipment, non-cooperation of the net and professionalism.
Recitation artists with the most active online program. Ahkam Ullah, general secretary of the Bangladesh Recitation Coordinating Council, said it was possible to keep 60 recitation organizations active in Dhaka City and 400 recitation organizations across the country through regular online programs during the coronation period.
The practice of artist-worker participatory programs is completely closed. Especially Mancha Natak, Pathnatak, Jatrapala activities are completely closed. In this context, play director Nasir Uddin Yusuf said, ‘Artists or young artists are successfully carrying out various activities online using information technology. As a result, a kind of unity is being formed through the exchange of views of the industrial society. But drama is not an art to be online. The only reaction to the spectacle is the acceptance and rejection of the audience. Mancha Natak thus survives with its uniqueness. There is no alternative.
Kamal Bayazid, secretary general of the Bangladesh Group Theater Federation, said 40-50 of the 342 drama organizations in the federation were in a critical condition due to the long shutdown. Doubt whether they will ever be able to return to the stage.
Due to the Corona situation, the Jatrapala exhibition has been closed for a year and a half. According to travel actor and researcher Milon Kanti, there are about 5,000 professional travel artists in the country who make a living all year round with the income of the travel season. But since there has been no travel exhibition for the last two seasons, professional travel artists are living an inhuman life.
Professional musicians who perform on stage are also in trouble because the lights are not on. During the music season, on an average, 15 singers like Ankhi Alamgir and 10 artists like Kanara do stage shows every month. They are closed now. According to Kumar Biswajit, the joint convener of Kanthshilpi Parishad Bangladesh, there are more than five hundred singers in the music hall. Stage shows are the main source of income for these artists. But these artists have become unemployed due to the closure of stage shows for a year and a half. He thinks that the artists have been deprived of income of Tk 200 crore. Similarly, the country’s Baul artists are in trouble, who make a living by singing.
Due to the closure of cultural activities, the artists as well as the artisans who took it as a profession have also become unemployed. Especially mechanics, beauticians, sound and light control crews are living inhuman lives. Concerns have also been raised about whether the cultural arena will be able to return to normal after overcoming the stagnation caused by the long shutdown, and whether those who took up cultural activities as a profession will be able to return to that profession.
Ahmed Gias, general secretary of the Bangladesh Pathnatak Parishad, thinks that cultural activists have had a bad experience during the Corona period. The cultural activists who used to be the first in the crisis of any people, this time they saw that no one came forward in their danger. So many have returned to the village. Many have been forced into different professions. Will the worker who has gone to another profession to save his life be able to return to cultural activities? If not, there will be a crisis.
Researcher Milon Kanti Dey thinks the crisis is getting deeper and deeper. The traveler who has been living with dignity for so many days, now he is forced to choose another profession, can the three return to the stream of art?
Vocalist Kumar Biswajit has the same fear. If it continues like this for six months, one year, many artists will find other jobs to run their families.
According to Biswajit Roy, cultural activists were the most neglected and unemployed during the Pandamic period. At the government level, he got five thousand rupees at one time last year, but this year he did not get anything. In this situation, the frustration among the cultural workers is unbearable. The organization survives with cultural activists. The organization will not survive if those who selflessly work for the organization are not saved.
According to Nasir Uddin Yusuf, the epidemic of the last century changed the world; In the same way, Corona has changed the way we live in the 21st century. In the future, people may return to normal life with Corona antidote; But the changes and experiences that people will gain from this epidemic will surely change the culture.
Last year, the government ended its responsibility by providing one-time assistance of Tk 5,000 to about 10,000 cultural workers in the country during the Coronation Crisis. In this context, Golam Quddush, President of Sammilita Sangskritik Jote, said that thousands of cultural organizations in the country are engaged in cultural activities from their respective positions. Most of the members of these groups make a living by working in small jobs, businesses, tuition or media. Again there are many students and unemployed. In the wake of the Corona crisis, these culturists and families are living in dire financial straits. They go ahead to help people in any crisis. But now they are in trouble, which they can’t even tell anyone because of their self-esteem. The government should stand by these culturists in times of danger and provide regular allowances.