Mumbai's Lavani Artistes Cook Up a Storm

Updated: 27 October, 2020 11:41 IST | Nasrin Modak Siddiqi | Mumbai

In their resolve to stay afloat, these Lavani artistes have dived into the food industry. Appreciation from patrons is their applause

Gauri Manjarekar
Gauri Manjarekar

At her mother's home in Mira Road, Gauri Jadhav Manjarekar is rolling out a set of puran polis, her-two-year-old in tow. It is for an order; meanwhile, trays of fresh traditional methi ladoos and besan ladoos are ready to be packed. Every day, she commutes from her home in Virar to Mira Road in a bus to help her mother with her home catering business — Suhasini Khamang. "The resumption of trains is such a relief," she admits.

The 38-year-old Lavani artiste is a trained dancer who learnt Kathak from Archana Joglekar, and Bharatanatyam at the Nalanda Institute. "My mother taught me Lavani — still does. Even at 72, she sings beautifully and gives performances. Both my parents (my father passed away in May) are from the performing arts field; it runs in my blood," says Manjarekar who has been out of work because of the lockdown. "We knew how unstable the entertainment industry is, but this lockdown gave us a first-hand reality check. I grew up helping my mother in her food business in a small capacity and so it was easier to do it on a larger scale," she reasons.

Puran polis. Pics/Sameer Markande
Puran polis. Pics/Sameer Markande

"When this began, we didn't realise what was happening or how it would impact our industry. Now that everything else has begun, we are wondering why not us? Why don't they put SOPs in place and restart," she questions. Yet, she is hopeful that things will return to normal soon. And when it does, Manjarekar will continue to help her mother expand the food business across the city. "I don't think I will let go of this business now, even after performances resume. Our shows are always in clusters, and never continuous, so both careers won't overlap; I will need to manage my time better," feels Manjarekar.

Hungry for appreciation

Nearly 15,000 Lavani artists including dancers, singers, music accompanists and technical staff, depend solely on performances for their livelihoods. Singer Ganesh Gawankar, 39, has been in the stage business for 18 years, and is a well-known name in the Lavani fraternity. Obviously, life changed for him since the pandemic hit.

Manjarekar during a Lavani act
Manjarekar during a Lavani act

"With no cultural programmes permitted, work stopped for all of us and there was no help from the government. Several organisations and friends came forward to help but there is only that much one can depend on such aid. So after two months of uncertainty, I entered the food business, by preparing and selling farsan. With friends and WhatsApp group support, it picked up. But when the lockdown eased, I started losing business," rues Gawankar. That's when he started a fast food stall in
Kamothe, Navi Mumbai.

"As much as I love to eat, I enjoy serving and cooking. I decided to start a fast food stall selling pizzas, burgers and sandwiches; sandwiches seemed fine, the other items were expensive for the common folk, so I also started the inexpensive variants of samosa, vada pav and bhaji (pakoda). An artiste craves appreciation the most, and I am getting that through my food. While there is no applause, their feedback is a good motivator and offers instant gratification. I find similarities in both fields; no matter how sad an artiste is, they make the audience happy with their art; serving food to the hungry and those on the go makes them happy. I will go back to performing when it's time, but I will never shut down the stall." This alternate source of income has taught Gawankar a lot. "I wish to die as an artiste. Nothing compares to the stage, live audience and applause. My request to people is to never forget the artistes so much that they forget their art," he reminds us.

At  work. Pic/Sameer Markande
At work. Pic/Sameer Markande

Taking the virtual route

As a child, Tulu-speaking Ambika Poojary was so attracted to Lavani that she learnt the language and the art, has been performing for 16 years and now, teaches the art form to young girls. The lockdown forced her to think of an alternate means of earning and so she started a tea stall near the ST Stand in Khopat, Thane. In addition, she sources garam masala from the wholesale market at Jambhli Naka and makes packets according to the dish (biryani, pulav, etc) to sell from her stall. Like the rest, Poojary intends to continue with the stall once things get back to normal. She has also started online dance tutorials using her smartphone.

"Lavani is all about emotions and expressions. While I do virtual group classes, I prefer one-on-one online classes, as it becomes easier to teach the steps and emotions. There is better control and the steps don't get lost in streaming," shares Poojary who wouldn't mind participating in virtual Lavani sessions. She, like thousands of fellow performers, can't wait to get back on stage and hear the thunderous sound of the audience's applause.

Ganesh Gawankar
Ganesh Gawankar

A Lavani artiste, sells fast food
A Lavani artiste, sells fast food

Ambika Poojary sells tea and spices
Ambika Poojary sells tea and spices

Place your orders

. Devour traditional snacks by Gauri Manjarekar. Call 9819535666

. Get your hands on fast food by Ganesh Gawankar. Call 9819337251

. Order spices from Ambika Poojary. Call 8433615120

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First Published: 27 October, 2020 08:47 IST

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