Drishti Sadas

Paying to perform and performing for free are two issues all artists face in their careers. Artists need to present a united front to curb such practices.

What do artists think about the two practices? What is the consensus emerging from the opinions expressed by various artists in Drishti sadas?

The message to all artists is loud and clear: Do not pay to perform. Protest firmly against organisers making such a demand. Boycott them and their programmes. Do not perform for free unless you have good reason to believe that it is for a truly worthy cause that the organisers are genuinely championing.

The message to audiences is: Boycott concerts of artists who have paid to perform. Do not demean art and the artists you love to hear or watch by expecting them to perform for free.

Organisers of music and dance programmes, please note: You will serve the performing arts better if you desist from such practices that devalue both the arts and the artists that you want to promote.


Nirupama Rajendra

Fortunately we have not come across the ‘Pay to Perform’ kind of organizers. We are totally against either organisers or artists taking this route to conduct shows.

If it is a charity show supporting some educational, medical or societal development work, we could perform for free. If dancers want to support religious or art promotional events with free performances, it is still okay. But dancers should watch out for organisations which have enough funds but don’t pay. A modest incentive is but appropriate as an honor for the skill and effort of an artist.

Late Guru Narmada

If an organiser expects a dancer to dance for free, he is taking dancers for granted. When dancers accept to perform for free, often they have little respect for the organiser and tend not to take the show seriously.


We detest it totally and have never paid to perform. This approach destroys the quality and spirit of dancing. When an artist himself pays to perform, the one who can afford to pay gets to perform and not the one who is more talented but can’t pay.

No organiser should conduct dance programmes if he cannot pay the artists. When the organisers and even the audience feel that artists should perform for free, are they not diminishing the value of the very art they appreciate?

Dance shows should be ticketed. Or at least the choice should be left to the audience to pay whatever they can when they come to watch the performance. Maybe the collection box could be placed outside the auditorium.

Often when an artist performs for free, some organisers complacently don’t even make an attempt to raise funds. Those who raise funds do not think of paying the artists as they have anyway performed free of them.

We also find that some organisers who can pay well are not bothered about the quality of dance. In such instances, to get media attention the artists compromise on the content and the form, and present traditional dance in a movie-style.

We also have done shows for free and for less money – looking back, on some of the occasions, we should not have done that.

Giving youngsters an opportunity to perform by asking them to dance for free is okay sometimes. But it is not proper to make a similar demand on senior or experienced dancers who have made dance their life and profession.

We do feel that the value of a ticket for a dance programme should not be less than what one pays when one goes to watch a film.

Padmini Ravi

Having taken dance as my career, I wanted to make a name for myself and get noticed. There were two options: To suck up to people who would recommend you or pay and dance. I chose the latter. I openly accept that, yes, I did pay most of the sabhas in Chennai to perform there. Only later did i realize that what i did was completely wrong. I regret it even now. As the years passed my priorities and outlook changed. I chose to be out of this system. If one says no to such sabha performances, there are hundreds more ready to do the show. So collective decisions should be made for the system to be changed.

When in a temple a priest gets his money, a florist gets his money and a light boy gets his money, don’t tell me the organizers cannot pay the artists his remuneration?

Many event managers conduct performances by classical artists who for an opportunity to be noticed agree to perform for free or for peanuts. The event manager makes his money.

This is exploitation. Artists are also to be blamed for this.

As an organizer of a mega event like Bangalore Habba where every year about 200 artists perform, I have always paid the artists.

Audiences should also understand that nothing comes free and nothing should be taken free.

Veena Murthy Vijay

Dance is religion for me and not performance-oriented all the time. in 1982 I was very happy when I was invited to perform in Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai, not aware that I needed to pay to perform. Just before the performance started, I was shocked when I was asked to pay Rs. 10,000 for my slot. I refused to pay and was ready to walk out of the auditorium. Since the programme was just about to begin and I refused to pay, they had no choice but to allow my performance to go on. I am glad I have never paid to perform. Art should be respected.

Whether it is a sabha or a temple conducting a programme, at least the basic honorarium should be given. When a light boy, driver, etc. can be paid their money, why not artists? We as a fraternity should show that if we do not entertain, they cannot organize.

Sharmila Mukherjee

Young upcoming artists who have rich parents or god-fathers pay the organisers so that they can participate in the prestigious festivals and programmes. It is an absolutely objectionable malpractice and I condemn organisers who do not care about the talent of an artist but are more bothered about his financial strength.

If funds can be raised for stage, lighting, publicity, etc., then they can also be raised to pay artists. One can, of course, help out a friend by performing for free, if that friend is really unable to get sponsors for the festival that he has organised.

I would not perform for free more than once, unless it is at a religious function, even if the organiser is my friend. If we perform for free time and again, we risk being branded as dancers who can always be persuaded to perform for free!

Priyadarshini Govind

It is unfortunate that certain practices have become the rule over the years and seem to be unavoidable. Paying to perform should perhaps be treated as an investment to further one’s career. But there should be a limit. Yes, initially I too paid to perform.

There could be a sound reason for an organization to ask the artist to pay to perform and the artist could have her own reasons to comply. It is important to figure out which organization has the genuine intention of promoting art and artists and if the platform would really help an artist to come up in her career.

An artist who has to sustain herself through her art cannot really perform for free. But one cannot be commercial always. When it is for a cause or for friends, it is a pleasure to perform for free – the issue of taking money does not arise at all.

Shuba Dhananjay

I am totally against it. I have never done this in my career and never would. If I can afford to shell out money, instead of paying to such organizations I would rather organise a programme of my own and perform. If I can afford to spend more, I would rather conduct a dance festival where I can dance and invite others also to perform.

IF it is an important show where I know it is a non-commercial organisation genuinely trying to spread art, then sometimes I dance for free because I am aware that there are very few people or organisations who come forward to sponsor a classical event. Even the TV channels don’t shell out a decent amount if it is a classical programme. If I know that the organiser is using dancers and making his money, then I guess I would rather not perform for free.

Revathi Narasimhan

There is enough and more expenditure a dancer incurs for a performance – for the live orchestra, her costumes, travel charges. Hence I don’t agree with this concept of artists paying to perform. Maybe with fewer opportunities around, to gain publicity an artist may adopt this route.

Sometimes we may have to perform for free. If my students are talented and have to be noticed, and if the dance festival is famous and the organiser is genuinely doing it for the cause of art, it’s fine to accept to dance for free once or twice, but not always. But as a principle, my organisation has never requested any artist to dance for free though it is very difficult to get sponsors. I don’t insist that my students should do the Rangapravesha, because it is a costly affair. If the student is good and can afford it, then I ask them to go ahead.


A performing artist has to perform (after all visibility is obviously ‘more’, when an artist is performing in programmes). But it is always a struggle to get a good programme.

So where does this lead to?

Pay and perform or perform for free or get paid nominally.

Luckily, in Bangalore, unlike in some of the other cities, organizers do not ask artists to pay and perform. But artists are commonly expected to perform for free. Today, the growing culture of companies opting for music and dance programmes for various occasions has been a boon to many artists, who are paid well for such shows. This helps them offset the lack of income from performing in most of the so-called festivals.

Can all artists take a common stance on these issues?

Personally, I think the different approaches will continue as the art field has people with varying needs and viewpoints.

Probal Gupta

What I have noticed is that wealthy mediocre dancers influence organizations to give them an opportunity to perform in exchange for money. Organisers find this an easy way of collecting money to pay the senior artists performing in their programmes. Once a legendary music conference committee in Kolkata requested me to pay Rs. 10,000/- to participate in their festival, promising me that I would become a star overnight. I immediately walked out.

Performing for free is also obnoxious as it completely mars the true sense of the word art. I may dance once or twice for free on being requested by a friend for a good cause or maybe at a pious place on a religious occasion.

Shyamala Bhave

When kings ruled the land, they patronized artists. Now our governments do promote the arts, in their own ways. Numerous cultural organizations also hold dance and music festivals. For the platform provided something in return (in cash, in kind or friendship) is always expected. I have never asked anyone to pay and perform. It is unfortunate that money can buy one anything from programmes to a Ph. D.

No entertainment can be really free. But I have given many free performances, as a seva or for friendship; perhaps i’m being taken for granted as it is only music and music for me. Maybe even God is bored with my free seva.

R K Padmanabha

Artists who pay to perform can get one or two platforms, but will that help them improve their skills and become artists of quality?

I do not accept every programme offer but I do consider those who genuinely want me to sing for a good cause.

Anoor Ananthakrishna Sharma

All know that artists who get sponsors for a programme get a slot. I have never paid to perform but I know there are many who pay to perform in the sabhas in Chennai, just for their career records even if there are no audiences to watch them.

Asking artists to perform for free is plain exploitation. Many temple authorities ask for free concerts or for a petty fee, as a seva. They can afford a gold kirita, diamonds and other rich alankara which god never asks for, but unfortunately they don’t have money for kala seva.

As well-established artists we can have our say now, but every young artist should get at least a basic honorarium, else he should not perform.

Suma Sudhindra

I have never paid and don’t know anyone who has paid to perform in the music field. I have done shows for free mostly as a favour but unless all artists unite and take a decision this practice cannot be brought to an end.