The school fete has been the launch pad for many a popular artiste

From the multiple venues of this year’s State School Arts Festival, pause to travel back some 58 years, to the second edition of the fest in Thiruvananthapuram, way back in 1958. You come to the sepia memories of a dark, lanky youngster in a white shirt and dhoti squatting on a relatively Spartan stage and holding the audience breathless with his singing, and a younger but equally talented chubby lad on the Mridangam by his side.

The two were Yesudasan K.J. of St. Sebastian’s High School, Palluruthy, Ernakulam, and Jayachandran Kuttan P. of National High School, Irijnalakuda. The two had won the first and second places respectively in light music. And today, the Malayali diaspora around the globe and much of the nation know them as K.J. Yesudas and P. Jayachandran, who have been the defining voices of Malayalam cinema music for generations afterwards.

Yesudas had sung, accompanied by Jayachandran on the mridangam, at the closing ceremony of that fest. The grainy, black-and-white picture of that historic moment may itself be a pointer to why the festival has come to mean so much to this State. And why it has been growing in reputation and size over the many decades.

But the voices of Yesudas and Jayachandran are not the only ones that blossomed first at the festival.

Budding talents

There is a long list of other names, which have an instant recall, and they range from singers, composers and instrumental musicians to dancers and others. They include K.S. Chithra, Sujatha, G. Venugopal, Minmini, Arundhathi, Srinivas, Najeem Arshad, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Pattanakkad Purushothaman, M. Jayachandran, Sharath, Pala C.K. Ramachandran, Perumbavoor G. Ravindranath, Kudamaloor Janardanan, T.H. Lalitha, Kuzhalmannam G. Ramakrishnan, and many more.

Actors Manju Warrier, Vineeth, Vinduja Menon, Thara Kalyan and Guinness Pakru, dancer Neena Prasad and even the current State Chief Secretary Jiji Thomson had their first moments of glory at the School Festival. “If I could achieve something in dance and cinema, it is all because of the School Festival,” Vineeth once told this writer. “The festival prepared me for a career in arts.”

But sadly, there are also several others, many equally talented, who twinkled at the festival and then vanished from public gaze once the curtain came down. Like M.K. Meera, who was second in light music, when Chithra won the first prize. She comes from an artistically gifted family. Now a homemaker in Chennai, Meera was one of the forgotten stars of the festival till The Hindu featured her in these columns last year.

“My students R.S. Archana, Bobby Krishna, Vishnu Gopal and Neena Cherian could have become great dancers if they had continued to dance after the festivals,” said Girija Chandran, one of the more successful dance teachers in the history of the festival. “It is sad to see talented children stop performing, often to do some other jobs.” It’s a grief many in Kerala, who frequent the school fests down the years, share.