Etymologically drama comes from the Greek word for ‘to do’. Extending it further to how the word is understood at present, drama creates a space for us to think, feel and do. Aagaaz’s applied drama practice creates possibilities of thinking, feeling and taking action even beyond the rehearsal and performance spaces. Ajab Gajab as a program encapsulates the philosophy and being of Aagaaz’s existence.
At the heart of drama is the need to tell and listen to stories, a universal human need. Our pedagogy is informed by the need to replace single stories with the possibilities of being conscious to multiple stories. A single story is often a label or the dominant discourse— children lack agency, men are strong, resources are endless, etc. We work to build the ability to think critically by hinging on each child’s inherent curiosity and ability to imagine. By creating a space to explore and dialogue, single stories are revealed as what they are— one perspective in the gamut of many possible perspectives.
In current times as we navigate a period where what it means to be a citizen is being redefined, we want to anchor conversations with young people around identity, what kind of a world they imagine for tomorrow, and how to make it a reality. What are their stories around belongingness and the world they want to live in?
We have set out to do it with PROJECT RIHLA.
As actors and artists who work so extensively with their body, questions about their changing bodies, sexuality, gender and relationships often emerge. We take our methodology and resources to pre-adolescents and adolescents in various schools and urban settlements to address curiosities around gender and sexuality.
Through Darpan, we hope to create impact in understanding and building healthy relationships with the self and the other in a universe with the spectrum of genders in many more spaces.
We see performance arts, or growing in the practice of theatre through creating, rehearsing and performing as an extension of the process based work of Ajab Gajab. For us the performance is an integral element of the process. We believe that in the process of performing, or ACTing, both the performer, by being witnessed, and the audience, by witnessing, is transformed.
We create performances that raise questions and urge the audience to engage in dialogue with pertinent issues of our times. We believe in telling powerful stories rather than disseminating messages. We believe that everyone has the capacity to be curious, imaginative, think critically, and act consciously. By connecting to universal emotions and taking our audiences through a journey of ‘feeling’ we hope to affect thoughts and perhaps, action. While Ajab Gajab engages children and young people through immersive process led experiences, our performances have a wider reach. We performed for more than 2600 children across the country in 2018.
We have four plays in our repertoire at the moment – Duniya Sabki (directed by Sanyukta Saha), Raavan Aaya (directed by Neel Sengupta), Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan (directed by Dhwani Vij), and Riḥla (directed by Neel Chaudhuri).
RIḤLA (رحلة / रिहृला)
‘Riḥla‘, directed by Neel Chaudhuri is an adaptation of ‘I Want A Country’, an open text written by Greek playwright Andreas Flourakis. In Arabic, the word Rihla, has the dual meaning of a journey or voyage but also the written, imaginative account of that journey. A group of young people set off to find a new country for themselves, with new identity and values, a space that makes them feel safe. They argue and fight, they mock and educate each other, they reveal their fears and secrets. The voyage of the characters in our play is into some great unknown – to a place they can only imagine and covering a distance they cannot fully conceive.
Bhagi Hui Ladkiyan
The play explores the actors’ gendered bodies and their relationship with the self, others and public spaces – the piece uses objects, physical theatre, and cartography to devise a thought provoking experience.
These stories that begin on a random day. These are first hand retellings of day to day in Nizamuddin basti. The spectator is invited to enter the performer’s world- through everydayness of the narrative. The stories begin to twist into tales of how gender and sexuality plays out in the lives of the four actors. Conversations about family, trust, consent, personal space and gender dynamics begin to surface. Their questions and confusions about their identity and how they are perceived within the boundaries of their home and their community, comes forth through their words and actions.
With Raavan’s inevitable arrival as the background, the play disintegrates to expose the Raavan within. The play explores the idea of the illusion of a villain to create systematic hierarchical divisions in the ranks. It asks a very strong question-Is Raavan the real threat or is it the system of never- ending flattery and attempts to keep on creating chaos in order to maintain the prevalent disorder in the society?
Set in the midst of wartime negotiations and skirmishes, “Raavan Aaya” presents us with an intriguing proposition – one that allows the audience to lift the veil and peak behind the power structures that make (and unmake) a society. Borrowing signifiers from the Ramayana, this production is an adaptation of Sukumar Ray’s Lokhoner Shaktishel, rendered in contemporary Hindi.
~directed by Neel Sengupta
Duniya Sabki, inspired by Safdar Hashmi’s poem by the same name, deals with issues of entitlement. The play asks questions that are intensely relevant to the current scenario. Who does the world belong to? Who should the world belong to? Who occupies more space? Who has a louder voice? Through vignettes of the lived experiences of the members of the repertory this piece has been devised to provoke answers to these questions. Prahlad Tippaniya’s beautiful rendition of Kabir’s ‘mat kar maya ka ahankaar’, Dushyant’s ‘sau mein sattar aadmi’, and the popular ‘kahab toh lag jaaye dhak se’ breathe life into the narrative.
~directed by Sanyukta Saha and Muzammil
While practicing drama it is possible to become myopic and start believing that the community practice of it is limited to the rehearsal room or the workshop space. However, as an organisation with its roots in applied theatre— we believe in Everyday Practice.
How do our daily lives intersect, overlap, and become interwoven with the practice of drama? How does it affect our relationship with ourselves and the world? As a group we realise that just as we have rituals for our rehearsals and drama workshops, we must have rituals as a community. Our group rituals (Learning Circles, English Classes, Drama Jams, understanding Performance-Making) explore politics, power, history, gender, sexuality, literature and language through theatre and the arts. Regular one-on-one mentoring sessions, along with our weekly Circle Time where we meet as a collective to check-in with each other about our everyday, has enabled a primary language of impacting ourselves, our immediate society and the world we occupy. This is also our space to pause and reflect on Aagaaz, articulating how we experience our inner-workings and processes.