Raavan Aaya by Junoon ~ Sakhi

The months of October, November and December brought along a slew of newfound engagements for the Raavan Aaya team— a string of shows in multiple cities in association with Junoon Theatre for their Arts’ Encounter programme. What did this mean for us? Not only do we get to revisit a play which never fails to challenge us as performers, but also we get to share our boggling inquiries with a group of schoolchildren. 300 students in each show to be more precise!

Each show was preceded by a brief introduction to the play where we discussed the possibility of multiple versions of the Ramayana, and the possibility of the canonical characters living different lives in each version. Food for thought— “If Harry Potter’s story was written from the perspective of Voldemort, would it be the same story?”. Probably and possibly not. After four shows in Ludhiana, two shows in Agra, and two more in Rajnagar, we were met with an enthralling post-show discussion which challenged the characters as well as the audience. “Why did the King kill one of his own soldiers?”, “Why were the vanars not being given water?”, “The play is titled ‘Raavan Aaya’, but where was Raavan?” and finally, “Why did Raavan never come? Who is ‘Raavan’, then?”. The journey with this play continues as we continue to reimagine and refashion it, hoping to take it to more schools across the country to be me with a fresh package of curious musings.

Friends of Aagaaz Speak: Vernon Fernandez

My first experience with theatre was in the annual school play – a perfect excuse to spend about a month away from the classroom in rehearsals. You can’t be in a large production and not get bitten by the theatre bug, though. I’ve loved entertainment ever since, even changing jobs to work in the industry. Being connected to a play in any part of the production helps one to see exactly where one fits into the bigger picture, know that every little role matters – and allows you to escape a little. Theatre has provided me with amazing experiences, fond memories and some long lasting friendships. Sanyukta is one example of those – we met once a year at a theatre competition for three years running – yet have stayed in touch for 10 years after that!

When Sanyukta told me about Aagaaz, I had already heard about all the work she had been doing in the basti. Using theatre to reach out, to connect and to help children develop seemed so obvious, I wondered why people weren’t doing it already. I knew that the team would make the maximum out of whatever they had, and while I couldn’t help in person – a contribution was a small way to ensure that theatre continued to improve lives…

I’ve been extremely proud to hear about Aagaaz – each update I get only tells me more about how the children working with Aagaaz are improving. Their exposure to life and opportunities is increased, their drive to be better is stimulated – this is that one investment that I can see having a snowball effect which just keeps growing.

Khirki mein Drama – Theatre and Music at the Khirki Festival ~ Sanyukta

Khirki looked like it was celebrating Diwali or multiple weddings for five days in the month of December. The month of December kept all of us on our toes. The entire studio was abuzz with workshops, exhibitions, food stalls, events – people of varied ethnicities and age groups running up and down the stairs, laughing and talking in the otherwise serene environs of S-17, Khirki. KHOJ International Artist’s Studio on its 20th year of being, celebrated through a festival in collaboration with the local community and artists/arts organisations. Aagaaz led three element that were a part of the celebrations – the Khirki Music Ensemble, two plays based with children from the Community Library Project and 4 Kisse Connections.

The Khirki Music Ensemble came together in August last year – Romeo and Zoom – two young musicians from Congo, Kumud, a prodigious 15 year old with no formal training in music but awe inspiring, her mother Leela who never did realise her dreams of singing publicly, Shahid – one of the core group members of Aagaaz who has been getting trained in vocals from Manzil. This motley crew was led by Baan – our Managing Trustee and the co-founder of Dastaan Live, a pathbreaking music ensemble. They jammed through many a hot and rainy day, with the one common language of music bringing them all together. Re-arranging known songs and mash-ups of a few others – their hour long set list left the audience at the Jamunwala park enthralled.

The audience was a fair sample of the diversity that Khirki epitomises – and for once they were sharing an experience that was beyond the everyday. Through the performance though we battled the energies of the group of children from the tongewalla community that we work with through Ajab Gajab. There efforts to be up on the stage and join the performance were endearing and frightening (for the sake of the musicians and their hardwork) all at the same time. Bigger were the fears about the performances by the children from The Community Library Project scheduled for the next day. Most of our young actors were going to be on stage for the first time – what if they were intimidated by these younger children?

Safdar Hashmi has been an inspiration for us. His works for children used in drama workshops, beautifully allow for conversations with children to open up. The Community Library Project shares our desire to create spaces for children to be curious, think, and ask questions. It is an ideal collaboration. We worked with two groups of children over a period of two months. One of the groups had already created a performance of Duniya Sabki – we did a movement based workshop with them and used Hashmi’s Kitabein as a thread to explore the notion of stories. We explored the stories that they had read and relooked at these narratives from the perspective of a lesser know character, or a changed decision, or a parallel ending. The final show had new versions of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and the age old fabe of the Lazy Caterpiller, while looking at Mahasweta Devi’s Kyun Kyun Ladki in the context of one of the participant’s life. The new group of children dipped into Duniya Sabki and explored prejudice based on the colour of skin and gender discrimination – simply explored from the perspective of the participants. Our core group members were a joy through the process – they have visibly grown in their abilities work with young children using drama.

We approached the the day of the performance with great caution – what with the experience we had during the show by the Khirki Music Ensemble. We spent the morning talking to the Ajab Gajab gang, clearly demarcating stage space, collecting volunteers to guard our young performers. Once the show started, however, we experienced the unexpected. Everyone in the audience, specially the little ones – watched, rapt in awe. They watched as children, only slightly older than them, from their neighbourhood captivated an entire audience – despite all the distractions that performances in public spaces right next to a busy main road and opposite a big mall can bring. After the show, the performers looked ecstatic with a furtive look that I have grown to associate with young people who have suddenly stumbled upon the addiction that theatre can be. The Ajab Gajab gang accosted us and demanded to be put on stage too – and of course we would comply – they have since done two short presentations for their immediate community and are prepping for a bigger show in the end of June. The play will be based on a book by Tulika – A Kite Called Korika. Do read Priiya’s article about the presentations by this group in December and January.

The Kisse Connection sessions during the festival were special – for we experimented with our format. Other than the regular format of exploring personal memories, this time around we also did a session in collaboration with the wonderful Khoj Canteen led by Devika Menon. We explored stories around food and to talk about our experience would need another feature and more space, so do wait for our next issue.

As with most festivals, we worked in a state of intense momentum and breathed a collective sigh of relief as it drew to a conclusion – however, unlike most such times, we didn’t dip into a state of post rigour ennui and instead continued all our engagements with a steady pace and renewed vigour. Watch this space for all that followed and is planned. Much excitement!