Meet Swamy, the Bengaluru theatre community’s very own ‘poster boy’
A native of Davanagere, the 30-year-old performing arts enthusiast has been putting up show posters around the city for the past decade
By Reema Gowalla
It was in February 2012 when Halaswamy, now more popular as Swamy, pasted his first poster for the Vinod Ravindran-directed play ‘Somewhat Like a Balloon’ at a bookstore on MG Road. Life-size cutouts and hoardings form an integral part of movie promotions, but the same probably cannot be said for the theatre. From “not knowing Bengaluru at all” to skimming through every art space, bookshop, café, bus stand and other public places in town sticking A3-size posters for plays and independent performances, Swamy has come a long way in the last 10 years supporting the arts community to reach out to their audiences.
“I have put up posters everywhere — from Indiranagar, Koramangala and Malleswaram to Jayanagar, JP Nagar, Banashankari and Whitefield,” says Swamy, adding, “I got my first assignment from Nimi ma’am (Nimi Ravindran, co-founder of Sandbox Collective). She said there was a show coming up and asked if I could help putting up 10–15 posters at a few designated sites around the city. This was a weekend assignment, and she paid me ₹750 for it. Slowly after that, she started putting me in touch with other theatre groups and artists and I did the same job for them too.” During weekdays he worked at a pharmaceutical company as an office boy and Saturday-Sunday he was out on the road pasting promotional materials for one show or the other.
“When I first met Swamy, he was new to Bengaluru. Neither had he ever watched a play before nor did he know what a poster for a play looked like. He came to me through a reference, only knowing that there is some side business that needs to be taken care of and that he’ll be paid for it,” says Nimi.
“Back then, social media was still nascent and the newspapers would anyway not cover theatre as much. In such a scenario, posters were an important means to promote our plays. And because, theatrewallahs mostly worked on a shoestring budget, the cast and crew members would carry the posters and adhesive themselves, going around the city putting them up days before the show. It was a big relief when we met Swamy, who was willing to do the job for us over the weekends. He was so keen and dedicated from Day 1 that in no time, he became the Bengaluru theatre community’s favourite ‘poster boy’,” she adds.
With no prior exposure to the world of theatre and dance, Swamy now had assignments from Ranga Shankara, Jagriti Theatre and Attakkalari to Lahe Lahe, The Courtyard and Citizens of Stage Co Lab among others. Meanwhile, The Company Theatre (TCT) and Drama School Mumbai also tasked him with promotional work whenever they had shows in namma ooru. “My day would start at nine in the morning with a bag full of posters, glue, the map of Bengaluru and a BMTC bus pass. I travelled to different neighbourhoods, walking around streets and bylanes to put up posters until evening. There have been times when I covered up to 50 locations in two days,” he elaborates.
Some weekends, Swamy had help from a friend who would take him around on his motorcycle while he finished his work. “If it’s a big show, I would also handle the printing of tickets, banners and standees as well as take care of the online counter at the venue. They gave me money for each task accordingly,” he adds.
Being involved with the artist community also meant that Swamy got the opportunity to watch a lot of performances and thus acquire a taste for the arts. “I love Atul Kumar’s plays. TCT actors bring in a lot of energy to the stage. Vivek Vijayakumaran’s ‘Bhima’ and Shankar Ganesh’s ‘Maavina Gudi Colony’ are among my other favourites. I also like the movement arts performances by Diya Naidu and Rukmini Vijayakumar. Inspired by their work, I had taken up contemporary dance classes before the pandemic. But when it comes to theatre, I think I still have stage fear. I am better off backstage for now,” he says.
How has Covid-19 affected your work and earnings? “People may think that sticking posters is only a part-time job, a means to earn some extra money on my day off. For me though, it’s way more than that. Over the years, I have changed several jobs, but this work remained my constant. Come to think of it, I have become so passionate about plays and the artists I work for that I will probably never quit. When the pandemic brought everything to a halt, I lost my full-time job and with auditoriums closed, I had no way out but come back to my hometown, Davangere, and take up something else in the interim. This, however, has not dampened my spirits,” he explains.
Swamy is hopeful that shows will be back soon. “Bengaluru’s artist community has been very supportive toward me through these tough times. My family depends on me for finances, and it’s important that I find some source of income either in my village or in the city. In between the multiple lockdowns, whenever there were shows in Bengaluru, they gave me work and that helped me sustain. I am looking forward to going back to the city soon. Hoping, shows will resume after the third wave, and I will continue putting up the posters managing other tasks too,” he says.
Describing Swamy as a very enterprising and resourceful person, Nimi further says, “He’s a true asset to us. Given the financial limitations of the arts and culture ecosystem today, it’s difficult to say if any theatre group in the city can provide him with a full-time job and the salary he deserves. Also, in this day of Facebook and Instagram, where every promotion is done online, posters are only used for sentimental value and a sense of nostalgia. That said, I am confident about Swamy’s future whatever be the circumstances, bearing in mind his sincerity and the knowledge and skills he has nurtured over the years. He’ll make a good production manager given the chance, and will definitely always find a role for himself in the theatre,” she sums up.