Youth fest’s fading spirit
Most Keralites associate the state school youth festival with an array of illustrious artistes in cinema and the cultural world including Kavya Madhavan, Navya Nair, Methil Devika and Ambili Devi. For over five decades, it has been a celebration of talent, glamour and intense competition. There was no better platform for a budding artiste to catch the eye of the connoisseur. But with the advent of the various reality shows and beauty contests, has the youth fest lost some of its lustre? Is there a decline in the standard of performances?
“Yes!” says Muraleedharan, a member of the organising team of the ongoing Kerala state school youth festival in Palakkad. “Earlier, the youth tried to have an in-depth knowledge of the art they performed or language that they chose for a literary item. But after observing the attitudes and approach of the contestants for the past five years, I feel that there is a fall in the level of dedication and enthusiasm. During late 70s and 80s, youth festivals were the only podium to prove one’s talent. Many used to come scouting for talent, including film directors,” he adds.
Sreehari G.K., the ‘Kalaprathibha’ of Kerala state school youth festival in 1996, who considers it as the most memorable phase in his life, feels that the major changes introduced in 2005 in the way the festivals are held and judged are mainly responsible for bringing down the standards. “There used to be a lot of devotion and passion. I was never trained specifically for the youth festivals and we were never bothered about winning the prize. It was like an excursion to a place where we performed what we had already learnt. Things have changed now. The prestigious titles — Kalathilakam and Kalaprathibha — were removed and instead a grading system was brought in. The healthy, competitive spirit which once existed has vanished,” he says.
According to Ambili Devi, a noted film and serial actress in Kerala, who was the Kalathilakam in 2001, state youth festivals were the only opportunity for the budding artistes to demonstrate their talent. “Now, there are many other platforms such as reality shows and beauty contests. Though I was into acting even before winning the Kalathilakam title, I was recognised more by the filmmakers and the general public,” she adds. “I feel restoring these titles will help bring back the excitement of the festival,” she says.
Silvestar M.J, an art teacher whose students have been participating in youth festivals for the past 20 years, agrees that the competitive sprit among children and their parents has flagged. “There was a time when I used to train my students from their lower primary for participating in youth festivals. The students and parents were ready to spend time and energy for art. But that passion is gone now and as a result, the standard of their performance too has diminished,” he says.
The youth fest should not be allowed to go down in importance, says Mahalakshmi, film and television actress. “My entry to the acting world was through youth festivals. Film producers saw the live telecast of my mono act and they called me. I am a thabala artiste too and I would not have received any recognition for it had the youth festivals not been there,” she says.