In one of those existential moments earlier this year I was wondering why I took the plunge of birthing Aagaaz. With some pondering I realised that I enjoyed being on stage and the process that precedes it so much, that I decided to create that opportunity for the enthusiastic bunch of bachchas I worked with in Nizamuddin (yes, I am talking about the formidable group that is now known as the Aagaaz’s core group). Until the end of 2014, being on stage as an actor was a big part of life. I would often brag about how theatre was my life’s energy source. However, with a fledgeling of an organization making its own demands, my own practice of theatre took a backseat. With a great sense of purpose, I had decided to make 2017 the year I went back on stage.
Friends know that I keep reiterating that if you say something often enough, it will happen. It’s true. It does. I happened to be a part of four productions this year (one is still a work in progress). While the first was a play with the group I grew up with – pandies’ Theatre’s Ismat’s Love Stories, the second was Third Space collective’s short play – Malang (a piece that’s been memorable and important for a few heart reasons). The other two are pieces for very young audiences. Here, I shall write about only one of them (the other you are most definitely to read about next year in April). Ruchira Das, the Director of Calcutta’s Think Arts, a company that creates and curates arts and literary experiences for the young, reached out. Helios Theater, Hamm, a company revered for its plays for toddlers, had given one of their shows – Woodbeat to Think Arts. Ruchira wanted to know if I would be interested in performing the piece. Of course I agreed with a lot of excitement – after all I had made a pact with myself to do theatre this year.
A couple of days spent in Hamm was enough to realise that working in this production was going to be a huge learning experience. Woodbeat is an exploration of wood in its various forms with elements of puppet theatre. Other than a cursory participation in a week long workshop with Anurupa Roy years ago, I had never attempted puppetry. Brought up in Delhi, with a very conventional schooling, I had also never held an axe, let alone using one to sever blocks of wood. As the dates for working on the piece drew closer, one of my most reccurrent nightmares was losing a few fingers during a show, in front of an audience, mostly comprising of toddlers. The nightmares only went up in frequency and sub-genres once I started working with Michael and Marko on the creating the piece. While the experience watching the duo perform in Bombay and then Calcutta was fantastic, it only led to more and more doubts about whether I could actually pull of the performance. At Aagaaz we believe that arts create powerful learning experiences – for children as well as adults, and, what I never for a moment doubted was how much I was going to learn about working with toddlers through the creation of the play.
As the show premiered in The New Town School in Calcutta, I realised how fantastic the journey with Kaath (that’s what the name of the Indian version of the show) was going to be. The audience was full of 5 year olds and they were all engaged in each and every moment of the play. Perhaps one of the most powerful moments of performing the first run of shows was in Nizamuddin. We performed at the MCD Primary School in the basti for children from aanganwadis, nursery class, and grade 1. I was performing in the very space that saw the beginning of my journey with Aagaaz more than 8 years ago. After the show, the teachers walked up to me in awe, “these children were not screaming and running. They were sitting quietly and watching performance. That’s never happened. We didn’t have to ask them to be quiet even once.” With all my fingers intact, I smiled.